Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014-15 Windsor Express Team Preview

As defending champions, the Windsor Express have high standards & high expectations to live up to this season. After ending the playoffs with a 40-17 record (and some championship hardware), they are the team every fan is keeping their eye on & every other team is gunning for.

Last season, Windsor finished first in six team stat categories including blocks per game and field goal percentage - thanks largely to talented players such as returning Chris Commons. The Express are not alone in the challenge of filling a roster with a number of empty spaces in this is a development league.

The Express dominated the National Basketball League of Canada last season; ending with the strongest record by far. They overpowered certain match ups and games to such an extent it felt almost humiliating to watch. Everyone in the league knew they were the team to beat, they made that clear from the beginning. Players even admitted the lack of roster changes allowed them to really mesh together and become a force to be reckoned with.

Off Season Additions- Fred Sturdivant, rights acquired from Ottawa's protected player list.

Ryan Anderson, was also picked from the Ottawa Skyhawks. He was acquired for the rights to George Goode

Josh Collins, played at the University of Windsor. Originally from Toronto, Ontario.

Gary Gibson, played most recently in Germany. Originally from Windsor, Ontario.

Trent Tornincasa, played most recently at Greenville State. Originally from Indiana. Dual Citizen,

Anthony Pettaway, recently played in Germany. Originally from Ohio.

Karl Finley, recently played in Germany. Originally from Michigan.

James Johnson, played for Culver-Stockon (NCAA). Originally from Michigan.


Off Season Losses

Windsor has suffered some significant hits to their roster over the summer and with a target on their backs, they will be working extremely hard to overcome those hits.

The biggest of them all is in the loss of the backcourt duo of Darren Duncan and Stefan Bonneau. The quick pair proved to be one of the best backcourts the league has ever seen. Duncan was sharp, aggressive but never pushed it too far. Matched up with Bonneau, the combo proved lethal. Neither often saw foul trouble and if they did, other teams avoided putting them on the foul line because it wasn't often that they missed. You didn't have to be a Windsor fan to know that when you watched these two on the court, you were watching high quality basketball.

George Goode will also be a big loss for Windsor this season. He was a mid-season pick up that instantly made an impact for the eventual champs. The forward ended up leading the league in blocks per game, contributing to many second chances for Windsor. Goode's rights were traded for the rights of Ryan Anderson. Although Anderson will end up being a great pick up for Windsor, he ranked 47th in blocks per game last season, leaving a big hole in that category..

Papa Oppong will also not be returning to the Express this season. Oppong proved to be an all around asset, contributing to Windsor's deep bench.



Guards

Josh Collins is one of five Canadians currently sitting on the Express' roster. The former Windsor Lancer was an OUA West all-rookie (08-09) and all-star (11-12) during his time playing university ball.

Eric Evans, a 5'11" guard, is the shortest member on the roster but makes up for it in speed and accuracy. Comparing his playing style to Chris Paul, the Express are looking to Evans as a potential solution to the loss of Bonneau. Evans is one if the only 10 players in his school's history to score over 1000 points during his career, ending in double digits 53 times. He also contributed over 300 assists in the 119 games he played, being named Atlantic Rookie of the Week four times.

Karl Finley comes in to the team with a lengthy resume. The 6'1" Michigan native was named MVP of the McDonalds Supercup and team MVP for his league. Prior to playing in Germany, Finley played for Tiffin University averaging 19.9 ppg & 3.1 assists, along with a total of 57 steals in the same season.

Gary Gibson has local ties with an international talent level. Luckily for Windsor, he is already tied to two members on the roster before even setting foot in the WFCU Centre. Gibson played against Finley in Germany, and played with R.J. Wells on the same high school team that went 42-0. Gibson played NCAA D1, semi pro and ABA in the USA as well as in other countries such as Italy, Serbia and the U.K. Known for his aggressive defense style, the Express will likely look to Gibson to help replace Duncan in the backcourt, along with a list of talented guards they've picked up.

Trent Tornincasa is a dual citizen, allowing the Express some wiggle room on the Canadian quota this season. Tornincasa previously played for Hawaii Pacific University, averaging 15.3 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game & 1.9 steals per game with a FT pct of 91%. Tornincasa was Pacific West player of the week twice, with game highs of 42 points,11 rebounds,10 assists & 8 3 pointers. Tornincasa was drafted 24th in this years NBLC draft.

Dominique Buckley is a familiar face to Express fans, ending last season 15th overall in 3pt fg pct. He also had game high points of 24, with a 85% pct on free throws. Buckley is a reliable guard who's sure to have a larger role this season due to the loss of Duncan/Bonneau.

R.J. Wells is a local home grown talent for Windsor, returning for his second season with the Express. Unfortunately, Wells saw very little court time last season - averaging only 2.2 min per game last season. . However, with the need to find a new guard super duo, this could be an opportunity for Wells to step up and fill the void.


Forwards/Centers

Fred Sturdivant is a powerful acquisition for the Express, proving his value ending last season third in the NBLC in field goal pct, fourth in blocks per game and seventh for total blocks. At 6'7", there's no doubt about his strength & aggressive game play in the paint. e may just be what the Express need since they let Goode go. Solid in shooting ability, blocking, rebounds and steals, Sturdivant would be an asset to any team.

Anthony Pettaway, who was drafted 9th overall in this past NBLC draft, was actually acquired in a trade with the Mississauga Power. Standing at 6'8", Pettwaway had a promising college career at Defiance, starting in all but one game, averaging 9.5 rebounds per game. It will be interesting to see him on a team with no shortage of big men.

Kevin Loiselle caused plenty of action both on and off the court last season for the Express, being fined twice by the league for two separate instances. While this doesn't affect his basketball ability, some teams consider players like this a risk. Windsor, however, love him as a fan favourite. Loiselle finished third in the league in total blocks, fourth in total total rebounds & ninth in field goal percentage. Loiselle's presence is best felt under the rim as he has proven to be quite aggressive and has no fear of fouls. All that on top of Loiselle being a Canadian player and you can see why Windsor is willing to keep Loiselle around.

Quinnel Brown is a reliable forward, finishing fifth in total total Rebounds, seventh in steals, eighth in defensive rebounds & ninth in total scoring. Effective both inside and outside the paint, Brown had multiple games last season notching 20+ points.

James Johnson, standing at 6'5", is joining the Express straight from starting with Culver-Stockton in the NCAA, averaging 29mpg.

Chris Commons is considered by many as the cream of the crop of returning NBLC players this year. I'd consider Commons to be the most beneficial returning player on their roster. He is a two time all-star, first in total blocks last season, averaging 18.4 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. Commons is a strong player, with consistent shooting ability & reliable rebounding. He is unassuming, quiet but effective, always providing necessary assists.

Erik Parker averaged 9.7 min per game last season with the Express, with game highs of a modest eight points, ten rebounds and two assists.

Ryan Anderson was an obvious standout last season on the Skyhawks and a phenomenal acquisition for the Express. Anderson rounded out last season first in defensive rebounds, third in three-pointers made and fourth in steals per game. A lethal & effortless three-point shooter, Anderson won the  three-point contest at the NBL All Star Weekend event. He is also effective inside the paint, making him dangerous anywhere on the court. I would place money in saying, Anderson is definitely Windsor's best pick up this season.

Last but certainly not least, DeAndre Thomas, the bad boy of the NBLC. By far the biggest risk to take on I've yet to see, DeAndre is a talented player no question but his behaviour has proven to get in the way of his job. Thomas and his unpredictable conduct saw him suspended on three separate occasions last season, losing him a fair bit of playing time. Regardless of his past, he seems to have found a safe place with Windsor, with his dominating presence adored by the Windsor fans. He also happens to be in the best shape of his career while under the instruction of Bill Jones. He was the first player resigned for this season, coming off game highs of 27 points, 15 total rebounds & four steals last year. At 6'8" and 300 pounds he is a lot to go against on the hardwood and let's be honest, he knows it.



Coaching

Coach Bill Jones is a great example of what many players in this league aspire to be. He has played against legends in the NBA and long after retiring, is still able to still be involved and make a living in a sport he has always had such a passion for.

Named coach of the year for leading the Express to a championship, Jones has been with the team since it all started, which only makes the journey and its reward that much sweeter for Jones

Jones has coached teams in other levels (ABA, PBL) of basketball through the years, although this was the first league wide championship he earned as a coach. The moment you watch an interaction between any player on his team and Jones, you see the utmost respect each & every one carries for him.


Team Outlook

Windsor is looking to repeat their success last year, that's obvious. With a progressively stronger, more talented league year after year, it wont come easy to any team. Windsor has suffered a few serious roster setbacks, but some things are a blessing in disguise. Windsor has acquired the talent on paper, time will tell if these men carry the heart, the drive, and determination to allow them to repeat last year's success. The final cuts have to be made so it will be interesting to see how they come together as a cohesive unit. Jones certainly has the ability to lead Windsor to another championship, but can the team hold it together both on and off the court enough to go with him to the championship? I think I'll wait to see the final 12 in action before I predict who's taking the hardware home this year! This season could belong to anyone.