Ricardo Monge is closing his Stingers career

Championship in his last season is bittersweet for the point guard

A month ago, Ricardo Monge led the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team to the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) title. He had a 19-point performance over the UQAM Citadins, concluding his career in the league with a first championship.

Few players can say they concluded their career by winning a championship. Monge’s last season with the Stingers is hard to describe.

“It was definitely amazing,” Monge said. “[There were] a lot of ups and downs, but in the end, we were able to achieve our goal and there is no better feeling. It’s also bittersweet because it was potentially my last year playing competitive basketball.”

Rastko Popovic (left) instructs Monge during the RSEQ final on March 2. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Monge began his career with the Stingers in 2014-15, when he played 13 games. The Gatineau native said he was ready for the challenge of playing university basketball after three years at John Abbott College.

“I came in with a class of eight rookies, so there was a lot of playing time competition,” Monge said. “The biggest adjustment was probably the physical aspect of the game.”

When head coach Rastko Popovic, recruited Monge, he saw a hardworking player and a great teammate.

“He was coachable and had a great attitude on the floor,” Popovic said. “He was always positive, and these are the kinds of things we’re looking for at the point guard position.”

The point guard averaged just over 15 points/game this season. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Monge’s development has been impressive during his five years at Concordia. The point guard finished every season with more points than the last, as he went from 106 in his first to 248 in his last. Monge had few expectations when he started at Concordia and simply focused on his game.

“I just came prepared to outwork everyone else and earn my minutes,” Monge said. “I was also lucky that the starting position [was good for his height], so I was on the floor a lot as a rookie. It helped my development as a player.”

Popovic said he always told Monge that he had the work ethic to have these kinds of results. The head coach explained that Monge is committed and wants to get better every season.

“He’s motivated and that’s something huge,” Popovic said. “He’s not somebody we push every day to be in the gym. He arrived here as a young point guard, and ended up leaving [with] a lot of awards. He had a tremendous career here at Concordia, and I am so proud of everything he’s done so far.”

After nominations to the all-rookie team in 2015 and the second team all-star in 2018, Monge earned RSEQ honours for a third time this season. He received all-Canadian honours and was the MVP in Quebec university men’s basketball conference this year.

“I don’t think anyone out there is playing for awards, but it’s always nice to be recognized for your sacrifices,” Monge said. “I think the success came from years of work and all the confidence that the coaching staff and my teammates had in me.”

According to Popovic, these are well-deserved awards for someone, who, five years ago, arrived at Concordia with low expectations. The head coach said that Monge will be an amazing role model for Stingers players.

“Everything he does, he does it well,” Popovic said. “He has a tremendous story, and I think everybody needs to know about how great it is. I just call myself lucky to have been his coach for the last five years, as he also helped me to be a better coach and I’m so thankful for that.”

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers experience nationals for the first time

Losses to Ryerson and Saint Mary’s give Concordia vision for next season

In their first U Sports nationals appearance since 2012, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team lost both of their games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In their quarter-final game against the Ryerson Rams, the Stingers lost 87-47; the Saint Mary’s Huskies beat them 84-67 in a consolation game.

“It was a first experience for all of us at nationals, players and coaches included,” said head coach Rastko Popovic on CJLO Sports on March 11. “We knew it was going to be a different experience since it’s something we never lived before. You can’t just imitate walking into a big [arena] like that.”

Adrian Armstrong shoots a free throw during the RSEQ final. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Dalhousie University hosted the nationals at the Scotiabank Centre, which has a seating capacity of over 10,000 people. The Stingers qualified for nationals after winning the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship on March 2.

In their opening game, the Stingers played a strong Rams team that lost in the final last year, but won bronze this year. The Rams had five players 6’7 or taller, while the Stingers’s tallest players—Aleks Simeunovic, Olivier Simon, and Matthis Guerut—are all 6’7.

Popovic said he spoke to other coaches before playing Ryerson, and they all said the Rams do a good job at contesting inside shots. The Stingers’s game plan was to shoot three-pointers, but they went 3/36 from three-point range, which hurt them on the scoreboard.

“We knew we were going to have to make some three-point shots to stay in the game,” Popovic said. “Early in the game, it didn’t help that we fell behind 12-0. We had some great looks, but they just didn’t fall down.”

Adrian Armstrong, who made a team-high 56 three-point shots this season, went 2-12 in the game against Ryerson. The Stingers did a better job with their threes in their second game, going 12/32, but Saint Mary’s did better with their overall shooting.

“It was a great learning experience, but we’re disappointed with the results,” Popovic said. “Now we have a good idea of what it takes to make it to the next level.”

Near the end of their game against Saint Mary’s, Popovic subbed off fifth-year guards Garry Merrisier and Ricardo Monge for the last time in their Stingers careers. Popovic said it was an emotional moment for the whole team.

“We see these guys more than we see our family some days,” Popovic said. “We spend a lot of time together at practice, in the weight room, individual workouts, etc. So these guys are like my family. You never think about that moment until it comes, when you realize this was the last time they came off the floor.”

The head coach was already thinking about next season with some of the substitutions he made in the last quarter of that final game. Rookie guard Tariq Bakri-Hamad, who averaged 1.6 minutes per game this season, played 12 minutes against Saint Mary’s and scored 10 points.

“Against Saint Mary’s, we made a run [and cut their lead] in the second half,” Popovic said. “Tariq was on the floor during that run so those are very valuable minutes for him.”

The players will take a break to focus on their exams, but Popovic wants to see them in the weight room as soon as possible. Even though the 2019-20 regular season starts in November, the Stingers could be playing preseason games as early as August.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers lose quarter-final game at nationals against Ryerson

HALIFAX — The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team lost 87-47 in their national quarter-final match against the Ryerson Rams at the Scotiabank Centre, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“All of our guys are here for the first time at the nationals and we were a bit nervous,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic.

Popovic, who won the 2018-19 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) coach of the year, brought the Stingers to their first nationals since 2012. They scored only six points in the first quarter and were down 26-6.

“We started off slow and, against a team like that, you can’t really have a slow start because it’ll put you down like they did,” said fourth-year guard Adrian Armstrong.

Guard Adrian Armstrong went 2/12 from three-point range in the game. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Popovic thought the start of the game could have been different if Armstrong had mande a few early shots. Armstrong shot 38 per cent from field goal range and 16 per cent from three-point range in the game.

“I thought we had two good looks to start for Adrian. If you knock those down, then the game could go the other way,” Popovic said.

The low start didn’t discourage Armstrong, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Late in the first half, he was able to knock down a few shots. With 31 seconds left in the second quarter, Armstrong hit a mid-range jumper to give the Stingers a confidence boost. They tied the Rams 15-15 in points in the second quarter, but the score was still 41-21 at halftime.

In the second half, the Rams got off to a hot start, making three of their first four shots and getting on an early 6-1 run. The Stingers didn’t quit and kept trying to find open shots. Concordia was able to penetrate open lanes, but unable to connect on multiple occasions because of Ryerson’s size. Concordia has three players at 6’7”, but Ryerson has five players either the same height or taller.

“Their size and length forced me and others to take shots late in the [shot] clock,” said Armstrong.

Despite the Rams’s size advantage, fifth-year guard Ricardo Monge believes that the Stingers can improve on being aggressive.

“We had many wide open layups and open shots, but we have to make them,” Monge said.

Monge finally gets to nationals

In his first appearance at the tournament, Monge finished with 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

“It’s a great experience to be out here and get to experience this,” said Monge, who was the RSEQ MVP this season. With just over five minutes left in the fourth, he made back-to-back layups and a shot from top of the key to keep his team going.  

“I’m very proud of everything [Monge] has accomplished,” said Popovic. “It’s great for him, in his fifth year, to get an opportunity to come here and play at the nationals. He has done so much for the program and it’s just disappointing to come here and to lose a game like this.”

The Stingers lost to the Saint-Mary’s University Huskies, 84-67, Saturday morning in the consolation semi-final at the Scotiabank Centre.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers had a long journey to the championship

Basketball head coach Rastko Popovic is proud of everybody involved

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team played their first preseason game on Aug. 6, 2018, against the Ole Miss Rebels. Almost seven months later, the Stingers won the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship, beating the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins, 73-69.

Since the Stingers last won a title in 2012, they changed their coach from John Dore to Rastko Popovic. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“To become a champion, it’s a long road,” said head coach Rastko Popovic after the Stingers’s win against the Citadins on March 2. “You don’t just show up; you have to put in the work. I told our guys that game against Ole Miss paid off.”

From that first game against the Rebels, the Stingers played 33 preseason, regular season, and playoff games. They won 20 times, and had an 11-5 regular-season record.

“We struggled with some injuries, but I thought we had a pretty good regular season,” Popovic said. “We had some losses near the end, but you can’t expect to win every game in our league when you play each other so many times.”

For most of the Stingers, this championship title has been the result of hard work throughout the years. They last won the title in 2012, before Popovic was named head coach in 2015. Under him, the Stingers lost two semi-final games in 2016 and 2017, before losing last year’s final to McGill.  

“We just had progression every year, but lost a couple of tough games in the playoffs,” Popovic said. “You have to learn the daily habits of becoming a champion and you have to live by that. We pushed our guys, and I’m so proud of our guys.”

Although the team had a handful of rookies this year, they might not have won the championship without help from their veterans. Fifth-year players Garry Merisier and Ricardo Monge stepped up and performed when it counted—Merisier played 22 minutes and collected four rebounds in the final, while Monge had a team-high 19 points and made four of his six three-point shots.

“Big-shot Rick, MVP, team captain, whatever you want to call him, he does it all for us,” said guard Adrian Armstrong.

Monge, who won the RSEQ’s MVP trophy, played in the last home game of his Stingers career, and his teammates saw it as inspiring. “We were going to ride or die with him making [important] shots,” said forward Olivier Simon. “He’s been working on shooting all year. He has confidence [in himself], so we’re not surprised.”

One of Monge’s biggest shots of the game came right at the end of the third quarter, while the Citadins started to come back. He made a three pointer, giving the Stingers a 48-43 lead heading into the final quarter. Popovic said it gave his team energy for the fourth, and helped them win.

“This is the materializing of all the hard work I’ve put in throughout all these years,” Monge said. “It never happened for me, but it feels good to win my first championship.”

The point guard said only his team knows exactly what they had to go through to reach this point in the season. “We worked so hard, we’ve been through so many ups and downs,” Monge said. “Practices in cold gyms, hot gyms, it’s just a grind. It’s really special.”

Popovic added his team wouldn’t have won the championship without the work from everybody around the team. “I’m so proud of our coaching staff, our therapists, everybody in the [athletics] department,” he said. “This is for everyone involved with Concordia basketball, from the alumni to the supporters. Everybody has a piece of this [trophy], and helped us and seen our progression since day one.”  

The Stingers will now play at the national tournament in Halifax from March 8 to 10. When they last won the RSEQ title in 2012, they lost two games at nationals. Popovic played at the tournament for the Stingers in 2005, also in Halifax, and lost in the final.

“It’s the first time at nationals for all these guys,” Popovic said. “Going to nationals is the best experience of your life. You represent your school and it’s just a great reward for all the hard work these guys have put in.”

The players want to represent not only their school, but also the RSEQ as a whole, as they are the only team from Quebec. “We want to go out and show Quebec is one of the stronger conferences,” Armstrong said. “Obviously, we had some respect this season being ranked [in the Top 10], but it’s not enough.”

Main photos by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers win RSEQ title in men’s basketball

Concordia beats UQAM Citadins 73-69 at home

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team won the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) title Saturday night at the Concordia Gym. They beat the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins in the final, 73-69.

“Being a champion is the best feeling in the world,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic. “I’m so proud of our guys.”

Guard Ricardo Monge accepts the trophy from a RSEQ representative. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

The Stingers finished first in the RSEQ during the regular season with an 11-5 record, and earned the right to host the game. They beat the Bishop’s Gaiters last Wednesday in the semi-final, while UQAM beat McGill in the other semi-final.

The Stingers opened the game strong, getting the home crowd behind them. They had a 13-11 advantage after the first quarter, and dominated the second to hold a 27-21 lead at halftime. They started the third quarter strong, but the Citadins battled back and kept the score close.

The Stingers celebrate with their trophy. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

A Citadins bucket cut the Stingers’s lead to two points in the final minute of the third quarter. Then, fifth-year guard Ricardo Monge hit a three-point shot to give Concordia a 48-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“That shot was big and it gave us confidence,” Popovic said. “They hung around, but then we made some monster plays down the stretch. Sam [Ghandour] had a huge three with two seconds left on the shot clock, Olivier [Simon] had a big tip-in with a backwards shot, I don’t know how that went in.”

“When I play, I just think about the play and just make reads, I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind,” Monge said. “There’s nothing too special where I think ‘I need to make threes now.’”

Every time the Citadins cut the Stingers’ lead, Concordia scored timely baskets in the fourth quarter. Even though Simon’s behind-the-back shot looked like a lucky bounce, guard Adrian Armstrong said it shows how hard the team has worked through the years.

“He caught the ball, saw the shot clock and he knew he had to get it to the rim,” Armstrong said. “In his rookie year, I don’t know if he would have made that play.”

Simon finished the game with a double-double, collecting 18 points and 10 rebounds. Monge led the Stingers with 19 points, while Sami Ghandour had 17. The Stingers will now play at nationals in Halifax from March 7 to 10.

Women lose final

The Stingers women’s basketball team were also playing in the RSEQ final Saturday night. They lost to the Université de Laval Rouge et Or 75-55 in Quebec City.

More to come.  Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.

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