Saturday, October 25, 2014

2014-15 Saint John Mill Rats Team Preview

The Mill Rats enter the 2014-15 National Basketball League of Canada after a successful 24-20 season last year, in which they finished first in the Atlantic Division for the first time in franchise history. However, Saint John fell in the first round to the Halifax Rainmen, a team who were at the bottom of the Maritime standings. In their first three years in the NBLC, the squad from Southern New Brunswick has shown that they have what it takes to perform at a level to put them in the post-season, yet they have yet to advance past the first round in all three seasons.
The Mill Rats suffered key injuries in the final weeks of the season that would haunt them come playoff time, where their lack of depth proved to hurt them in must-win situations. They were a team who relied on putting up big points, finishing second in points per game, first in three-point shooting and free throws. The main concern was their lack of size and rebounding ability, as they finished last as far as rebounds and blocks.
General Manager Ian McCarthy has brought back the main pieces to the puzzle that made Saint John such a dangerous squad last year. With the departure of Coach Rob Spon, the new bench boss position belongs to Julian King.


Off-Season Additions - Aquille Carr (Princeton Day Prep), Kenny Jones (Argentina), Jabs Newby (Draft), Jahmal McQueen (Draft), John Paul Nyadaro (Draft), Anthony Winbush (Draft), Evan Roberts (Simonds High).

The Mill Rats had all kinds of hype surrounding off-season signing Aquille Carr. The 5'6 Baltimore-native is known as the "Crimestopper", as it was said that the crime rate in East Baltimore went down during his high school games. These home contests were relocated to local University arena due to the large audiences who flocked to watch this must-see phenomenon. He has received attention from several large media outlets, including CBS Sports who called him, "one of the most explosive scorers in the country". While Sports Illustrated claimed, "He has explosive speed, electric ball-handling skills and court vision that could rival Steve Nash's".
Saint John also added All-Star forward Kenny Jones, who played the final 17 games of the Mill Rats' 2012-13 campaign. Jones, also known as "The Big Ticket", has a strong interior scoring presence, as he averaged 22.7 points per game in his stretch with Saint John, while also averaging 8.4 rebounds per contest and shooting just under 60% from the field. Jones spent last year in Argentina, where he contributed to his team reaching the finals, posting 20 points and 7 boards per game, while also receiving several awards during that stretch.
The Mill Rats seemed to have a certain mindset heading into the most recent NBL Canada Draft, in pursuit of some athleticism to add to the floor. They seemed to be content in what was offered to them, as they would sign all four of their draft picks. First round pick, Jabs Newby, is a Brampton, Ontario native who played at Eastern Kentucky and Gannon. He was added to the squad as a strong power guard who can work nicely with the current Mill Rats backcourt.
Second pick, Jahmar McQueen is a former Windsor Lancer who stands at 6'7, and is described as tough with good athletic ability. Six-foot-eight John Paul Nyadaro out of Kenya was rumoured to be a first-round pick, making him a steal for the Mill Rats using their additional second round pick. Saint John's final draft pick was 6'7 forward out of Loyola, Anthony Winbush.
Lastly, the team also signed local product, 6'1 guard Evan Roberts. Roberts was a member of the Mill Rats Elite Basketball Club in 2012, and played at Simonds High School in East Saint John.


Off-Season Losses - Doug Herring Jr. (Bristol Flyers), Lawrence Wright (Kouvot Kouvola), Jermaine Blackburn (Unsigned), Amani Daanish (Unsigned), Damian Gay (Retired).

The big loss for the Mill Rats and their franchise is all-star Doug Herring Jr. The shooting guard averaged 18 points per game, and also finished in the top 10 in assists, steals, and 3-point percentage. Herring also played a crucial role in the Mill Rats lone playoff win.

Lawrence Wright was another late-season acquisition that helped Saint John secure the Atlantic Division title. The former Halifax Rainmen player shot 59% and averaged 12 points in as many games.

Jermaine Blackburn who averaged just under 13 points a game, and shot the third best free-throw percentage in the nation will not be returning. Late-season acquisition Amani Daanish was plagued with injuries in his stint with Saint John.


Guards - Anthony Anderson, Aquille Carr, Raheem Singleton, Dane Smith, Jabs Newby, Evan Roberts.

Under the leadership of reigning league MVP Anthony Anderson and new addition Aquille Carr, the Mill Rats back court is scary just to think about. Double-A led the NBL in 2013-14 in scoring with over 24 points per contest, while also averaging 5.6 helpers. Basketball fans in the Port City are in for one heck of a treat with these two stars.
Raheem "Radio" Singleton proved to be an effective scorer for the Mill Rats who brought grit and determination with him every game. The main issue reflected on the score sheet, was Radio's consistency. The Boston-native had five 18+ point performances, including a 33 point breakout against Mississauga, but finished the campaign hovering around 10 points per game. If the former Maine Red Claw can stay strong mentally, he will have no problem producing for Saint John.
Torontonian, Dane Smith was another member of the Rats who is capable of a big performance, but often didn't have the opportunity with the minutes he was provided. Smith appeared in 19 games for Saint John and averaged just three points a game, but rewarded his squad with great hustle and a strong defensive presence. While many remember him for his appearance in the Toronto Raptors' "We The North" commercial, the Mill Rats and their fans remember his strong 14-point contribution in the win against the eventual champion, the Windsor Express.


Forwards/Centers - Tyrone Levett, Eric Crookshank, Kenny Jones, Modibo Diarra, Peter Wedge, Naofall Folahan, Jahmal McQueen, Anthony Winbush, John Paul Nyadaro.

In the inaugural NBL Canada season, Tyrone Levett and Eric Crookshank led Halifax to game five of the NBLC Finals against London. They both return after a disappointing playoff run, hungry for a championship. Levett is an all-around weapon for SJ; he has a solid inside scoring ability at 6'5, while also being able to shoot the three-ball well (41% last year) and is strong defensively. He averaged 16 points per contest in 2013-14, and shot 86% from the charity stripe and finished in the top 13 in defensive rebounding.
Eric "Air Canada" Crookshank joined the Southern New Brunswickers around the holidays, and gradually got back into the rhythm of playing pro ball. Crookshank posted just four points over his first three contests, but went on to average eleven per game for the rest of the season versus Atlantic Division opponents. He finished at the top of the leaderboards in field goal percentage, as well as second in offensive boards and fourth in rebounds per game.
Many other new faces will be looked upon to contribute to a rather new Mill Rats front court. Kenny Jones shined in his 2012-13 stretch with Saint John, while fan favourite Modibo Diarra has returned alongside several new signings at the forward position.


Coach - Julian King

The Port City Ballers lost Rob Spon to the Rochester Razorsharks of the PBL, but Spon had great things to say about Saint John's new bench boss. "Julian is a great coach, and I told Ian [McCarthy] if he didn't hire him, I would have hired him as an my assistant in Rochester," said Spon. "He was a former pro in the minor leagues and in Europe so he will do a great job relating to the players, I have no doubt."
King made his name known in his playing days, when he was under the reigns of Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney at Temple University. He also participated in NBA camps - as well as the ABA - and has played in several countries overseas.
The DC Native coached T.C. Williams High School to the AAA Virginia State Title, the school featured in the film, "Remember The Titans". He also worked as an advanced scout in the WNBA for the Connecticut Sun.
Assistants Randy Loatman, Paul Vaughan, and Aaron Drummond will all return to the coaching staff for the upcoming campaign. 


Outlook

The Mill Rats were hurt by the injury bug in the dwindling weeks of the 2013-14 season. With added depth to the backcourt, and some size at the forward positions, they've put themselves in a good position to make a run deep into the playoffs.
It was not secret that Mill Rats rebounding game is what hurt them last year, especially in the early months of the season. The addition of Eric Crookshank was a big help, but by bringing size and athleticism throughout the draft, it appears they've gotten their squad to where they want to be.