Head coach Rastko Popovic looks to evaluate young talent with preseason series
For the second year in a row, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team will host NCAA Division 1 teams in a series of exhibition games. The Stingers tip off their preseason with six games from Aug. 21 to Sept. 1.
For Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic, the exhibition series is an opportunity to prepare the team for their upcoming season, which starts in November.
“It gives us the chance to play some early games,” he said. “It gives us the chance to get some extra reps in, watch some extra video and give our young guys a chance to play a lot in games.”
New York’s Canisius Griffins, Hofstra Pride, St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers and Siena Saints, Boston’s Northeastern Huskies, and the New Hampshire Wildcats will make the trip to play at Concordia.
Like in every preseason, Popovic’s goal is to evaluate how some of his younger and newer players will integrate with the team. After last year’s five-game exhibition series against NCAA teams — which saw the Stingers win three games — he noted some young players were able to contribute more offensively and defensively when the season started.
“If they get on the floor and they’re not nervous and they’re able to do things, it shows they are able to play under pressure early in a season,” he said.
Popovic, who is set to begin his third season as head coach, has four new players joining the team. Oge Nwoko, Michel Hakizimana and Mattis Gueret are first-year players, while Jonathan Koud becomes a Stinger after transferring from Northwest Junior College in Wyoming.
“It’s important for them to get some meaningful playing time so that they gain some valuable experience,” Popovic added.
While he is particularly focused on testing out the rookies, Popovic said it’s also important for the veterans to play in the exhibition series. He wants to see how his returning players improved over the summer, and how his team plays as a unit.
In addition, Popovic said the preseason games will allow him to scope out the Stingers’ strengths, particularly because they will be playing against strong teams.
“There’s a good chance the games will be competitive,” Popovic said, adding that Canadian university teams are finally able to play at the same level as some American teams. “There’s a good chance there are some games [the NCAA teams] won’t win.”
Popovic was a shooting guard during the 2005-06 season, when the Stingers were decimated 123-66 during an away game against the Duke Blue Devils — a top NCAA powerhouse. Over a decade later, though, his Stingers are now capable of beating other NCAA teams, as they proved with their three wins during the preseason series last year. This shows the growth of the men’s basketball program at Concordia and of the sport in Canada as a whole, since many teams now have the skill level to compete with American teams. The Carleton Ravens, for example, recently beat the Alabama Crimson Tide, a top American basketball team, 84-71.
“I think it’s good for U Sports basketball because it shows we can compete with these Division 1 teams,” Popovic said, adding that, “For people who want to see what our team will look like, it’s a good opportunity to come and watch some basketball.”
So far in the series, the Stingers have suffered three defeats: 82-69 against Canisius, 75-45 against Northeastern and 94-81 against New Hampshire.
They play against the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers on Aug. 29, against Siena on Aug. 31 and finish the preseason against Hofstra on Sept. 1.