The York Lions men’s basketball team is ready to show the rest of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) league how much it has grown.
Last year’s squad was one of the youngest in the league and the Lions went through the growing pains that come with fielding so many new players, finishing in the sixth and final playoff spot in the OUA East. While this year’s team is still young, the experience gained last season is helping prepare the squad for success in a tough division that features two of the top basketball programs in the country.
For head coach Tom Oliveri and the rest of the team, success means a return trip to the post-season and rise in the OUA East standings.
“We are confident we are going to be a playoff team and that is always our first goal,” said Oliveri. “But to look at it from a larger perspective, we want to host a home playoff game, and that’s something our program hasn’t done in a while. In order to do that you have to finish in the top four and that’s a goal of ours to host a playoff game and then keep going from there.
“With our league being divided into two divisions, in order to accomplish that we need to come out of the West in the top four,” he sail. “I don’t think we can fall behind early and then try to fight back, because the home-and-away games within our own division are really tough. We need to do well in the first half to gain momentum going into 2013.”
The team’s top four scorers from last year – David Tyndale, Richard Iheadindu, Raheem Isaac and Nick Tufegdzich – are all back this season and the coaching staff will rely on all of them to contribute offensively.
“It’s probably the most balanced group we’ve had in a long time,” said Oliveri of the squad’s production this year. “Unlike in the past where it’s been one to two people leading us, this year it will be four to five people and a successful recipe for us is to have five players with 11 points instead of two players with 18 to 25 [points].”
Tyndale is the offensive leader of the group and, as the only fifth-year player on the roster, will be looked upon to provide his usual scoring touch as well as guidance to the rest of the team. A two-time OUA East all-star, he has averaged more than 15 points per game in each of his four previous seasons with the Lions.
Iheadindu and Isaac were both rookies last season and made an immediate impact on the offence. They were second and third, respectively in team scoring while each playing significant minutes. Iheadindu earned a place on the OUA East all-rookie team at the conclusion of his first year.
Tufegdzich, a third-year forward, is the squad’s best inside presence. He led the team in rebounding last year and will be looked upon to again be a dominating force under the basket. He and Aaron Rados, a fourth-year forward with a soft scoring touch particularly from behind the arc, will also serve as leaders to the younger players on the roster.
“Nick and Aaron are guys who have been through some battles and have experience in this league,” said Oliveri. “They know what is coming up this year and how hard the team will have to work to be successful, and they will be able to show the rest of the team what that looks like.”
The Lions will also get a boost from the addition of Akeem Isaac, who will make his debut for the team this season after transferring from Lakehead in 2011, and the return of Jordon Campbell, who missed all of last year with an injury one season after a solid rookie campaign.
The newest faces in the line-up are a pair of forwards in T’J Rutty and Daniel Tulloch, as well as guard Nidun Chandrakumar. All three of them are talented players who can contribute immediately and they will be counted on from the beginning to provide support to the rest of the team in different areas.
“I am looking forward to watching them grow up and come together,” Oliveri says of his squad. “Like any young team, they come together with experience and more practice and games. This group has a chance to be a pretty good team; they just need to spend more time together.”