The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team started this 2019-20 Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season as league’s defending champions.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t defend their title.
Head coach Rastko Popovic described last year’s championship as the result of years of hard work.There’s never a guarantee of winning in sports, he said at the beginning of 2019-20, and each season is a new start and a new challenge.
“It was obviously disappointing at the end with the result,” said Popovic. “Yet, with the injuries we had, we were forced to do some things differently. We were still able, after losing Adrian Armstrong almost half of the season and Cedrick Bryan Coriolan almost a quarter of the season, to adjust with the younger guys.”
Despite those challenges, the head coach said it helped watching the team’s younger players develop throughout the season.
“Yes, we wanted to win a championship, but we understand we still got a good season where guys got better and improved in many areas. I think we proved a lot,” said Popovic.
Armstrong and Coriolan played their fifth and final seasons with the Stingers. Both were a huge part of the team’s success over the past couple years, including their 2019 championship year.
Armstrong finished 2019-20 as the RSEQ top-10 in a lot of the division’s individual university basketball statistics categories, including for scoring, steals and assists. Coriolan was named in the second all-star team in the RSEQ last season.
Popovic said a mix of everything in the Stingers’ season made things tough for the team. Although he said the team wasn’t bad, he pointed out they often had to deal with different lineups because of injuries.
“I think defensively we were good enough to have a chance to win the [championship], but offensively we didn’t play well enough,” said Popovic. “I think the inconsistency on the offensive end ended us losing our playoff game,” he said.
In 11 games played in his rookie season, Sami Jahan registered impressive numbers, scoring 147 points, 61 rebounds and 33 assists. Popovic thought Jahan played good games as a rookie and really was a positive this season despite not winning the championship. He said the team has many rookies who improved and will continue to be a big part of the Stingers in the future.
“Jahan had a huge progression from Christmas to the end of the season,” said Popovic. “He showed he can be a potential starter for us next year with the way he played. Aleksa Popadic was starting to have a good rookie year as well before he got hurt. I think those guys really improved as rookies. Ali White showed good flashes as well. I think the progression there was good.”
Yet, Jahan’s improvement in his first year really stood out for Popovic. For the head coach, it’s the most positive aspect to take out of the season.
“He showed that he belongs at this level of competition and that he can compete [in this league],” Popovic said. “He was able to do things that are required to compete here and have success at this level.”
Next season should be an interesting one for the Stingers. After going through the 2019-20 season with a fairly young group, the 2020-21 edition of the Stingers should boast an older squad, filled with second and third-year players.
Popovic said that his coaching staff will reevaluate their offensive and defensive schemes once they’ve completed their recruiting rounds.
“We’ll probably [bring some changes] in our plays, and Jahan will probably get more minutes, but right now it’s too early to tell,” Popovic said. “We’ll probably be faster with him. We’ll still have Olivier Simon and Sami Ghandour. We’ll need to make sure those guys will be the leaders of our team.”
Simon and Ghandour will be the only two fifth-year players in the lineup next season. Simon finished the season sixth in the league for points with 244, fourth in rebounds with 114 and third in blocks with 12. Ghandour finished third in rebounds with 116 and tenth in blocks with seven. Both have played a huge role in the team since joining it.
Photos by Laurence Brisson Dubreuil