Twenty minutes remained in a Stingers’ pre-season basketball practice, when head coach, John Dore pulled to the side to remind anyone within ear shot just how badly he’s been looking forward to this, his eighteenth year on the job.
“This is the most talent we’ve had in awhile,” Dore said of his 2006-07 Stingers. “We’re a stronger and bigger team, we’re more athletic and we’re deeper.”
As if right on cue, in walked former Stinger Rastko Popovic, complete with a very big smile. “But how’s the shooting?” asked last year’s sixth man.
A year ago, Popovic combined with fellow senior Chris Blackwood for 59 per cent of Concordia’s three-pointers.
While Popovic remains on campus as an assistant coach with the Stingers’ women’s basketball team, Blackwood is using the fall semester to finish his human relations degree, his playing eligibility complete.
Both former guards took in the Stingers first pre-season game, a 90-87 loss to Laurentian at the annual Nike Tournament.
“Yeah this team has the talent,” Blackwood said on opening night, “but I’m not sure they have a go-to-guy when they need a long range shot.”
And Blackwood wasn’t convinced otherwise, after Dwayne Buckley’s potential game-tying-three came up short at the buzzer.
Apparently everyone is a critic once their playing days are through.
But since then, the Stingers have won four straight, including three games by double digits. Granted nobody will confuse Concordia’s shooters with former Dukie J.J. Redick, but collectively, Buckley said, the Stingers will manage just fine thanks.
“It used to be that other teams could just guard against our two shooters (Blackwood and Popovic), but now it’s definitely more of a group effort,” the third year small forward said.
“We might be able to spread as many as four guys around the perimeter, and just get the ball to whoever has the hot hand that day.”
Among those potential long-range shooters, believe it or not, could be power forward Pat Perrotte. The fifth-year starter will often be found in his familiar place of work, underneath the basket and along the baseline, but should the need arise for an unlikely shooter Perrotte said he’ll be ready.
“I’d say [fifth-year senior] Ben [Sormonte] is our best option, but I worked on three-point shooting this summer, and it’s the first time coach is encouraging me to take some of those shots.”
Sormonte returns as a graduate student for this, his final year of eligibility as a Stinger. The six-foot-three Frenchman did not play last year, and he now finds himself starting for a team that barely resembles the one he helped lead to the 2004 national championship.
Of the Stingers’ 14-man roster, only four players were around during Sormonte’s first tour of duty.
“It’s exciting for me,” Sormonte said of coming back this season. “We got so far two years ago, all the way to Halifax for the Nationals. I’ve just felt like there’s some unfinished business.”
Sormonte has been the Stingers’ starting shooting guard during the pre-season, with Damian Buckley handling the one-spot, Jamal Gallier in the middle and Dwayne Buckley and Perrotte on the wings.
That means second-year-guard Pierre Thompson and third-year forward Andre Johnny are the only bench players with experience at Concordia.
While roster turnover is inevitable in college basketball, the Stingers’ addition of seven first-year players is rarely seen.
“I’ve never been on a team with so many new guys,” said Andre Johnny. “It will probably take a while just to get used to each other, to know where everyone should be on the court.”
“It’s a learning process for sure,” Perrotte says, noting that his final season at Concordia seems to be starting out just as his first one did.
“My first year here, we were a lot of rookies. It took a lot of talking after practice, and a lot of baby steps before we all felt comfortable,” he said. “The vets were great that year, there was no finger pointing, and that’s the role for me now.”
So far, so good for Perrotte who seems ready to lead by example if that’s what’s needed. In last weekend’s Laurier Tournament, Perrotte was named tournament MVP, leading the Stingers to wins over the host Golden Hawks and the Brock Badgers.