The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team is back from holiday break and looking forward to continuing a good start to the season.
The Stingers’s last Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season game dates back to Nov. 30. However, the team remained active by playing a tournament in Halifax at the end of December. Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic said at this level, teams don’t have much time to rest during the season.
“We usually have a little break of about a week at the beginning of December for exams,” Popovic said. “We then practice and have a few days off before Christmas. We were back practicing again on the 26.” Popovic said the Stingers flew to Halifax on Dec. 27 for its tournament. The team then played three games from Dec. 28-30, registering two wins.
“It’s a very short break of about six school days off that players get before Christmas, but that’s about it,” Popovic said.
The Stingers won four of their first five games of the 2019-20 season, and are currently ranked second in the RSEQ behind McGill, with one game in hand. The team also had a 4-1 record after five games in the 2018-19 season.
“The McGill game was a close game all the way until the end,” Popovic said. “It’s a good start to the season, with two good wins against the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins. Obviously, after losing Ricardo Monge last off-season, we kind of had to get used to playing without him.”
Monge was the point-guard, team captain, played his fifth and final season with the Stingers in 2018-19, was named the MVP in the RSEQ and received all-Canadian honours.
The transition period for the point-guard position was a bit tough at first for the Stingers. The team played exhibition games before the RSEQ season, but had to deal with injuries. Popovic said it was an adjustment for his team and the young players coming in. However, he said the team is satisfied with what came out of the first five games this season.
“We understand that our league is very competitive,” Popovic said. “There won’t be any easy game during the second semester. We have to get ready [for all of them]. Our next six games are against UQAM, McGill and the Bishop’s University Gaiters. Those will be six very competitive games. Those teams all played during Christmas time and got better.”
Popovic said that, since the start of the season, the coaching staff has been stressing a lot on making the right plays on offence, and sharing the ball.
“We don’t care who scores,” Popovic said. “We just want them to get the best shots as possible in every position. We want to eliminate turnovers. Early in the season, we turned it over too much. I’d say that right now, it’s a great overall team effort. Defensively, we’ve been pretty good, especially at understanding what we want to do against each team. However, there are still a lot of games left, so there are many things we want to get better at.”
Last season, forward Sami Ghandour missed the first two games of the season following a shoulder surgery. Ghandour is an important part of the team and is recognized for his energy on and off the court. This season, the forward was in uniform for the first five games of the season, having registered 58 points, and is tied for first in the RSEQ in rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game.
We call Sami — what we call in basketball terms — a glue guy,” Popovic said. “He’s not the one who will score 25 points per game. However, he does a lot of little things for us. He communicates and knows where to be on the court. Every team needs players like that to be successful. We’re looking forward to a big second semester for him.”
The Stingers only played five games but some players are already leaving great impressions on the court.
“Nathaniel Boisvert is playing a decent role for us,” Popovic said. “I also think Tariq Barki-Hamad has played well as a backup point-guard. We need these guys to come in and play well. We’re hoping we can get contribution from everyone, and that they can keep improving because it will make our team better. When you’re a young athlete coming in this league and playing minutes right away, you have a lot to learn. When players like Bryan Coriolan and Adrian Armstrong will graduate, we’ll need these guys to step in and play big minutes for us.”
With 11 games left in the season, the Stingers aren’t looking too far ahead. Popovic said the team simply wants to focus on itself.
“It’s going to be one game at a time, with one practice at a time by trying to get better,” Popovic said. “We already know our opponents, as we played them before.”
Feature image by Laurence B.D.