- Created on Wednesday, 02 October 2013 19:29
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By JUSTIN REID
A returning coach who knows how to win, a few core players from last season and some fresh faces are looking to bring gold to Niagara Knights men’s basketball this season. Hoping to improve upon last year’s record of 13-7, which saw the Knights go to an amazing 9-1 at home, the team will once again do so under the helm of Steve Atkin, whose contract renewal was announced by the college in May.
Atkin, who has served as the team’s head coach since 2010 and led the Knights to a record of 35-21 with three consecutive appearances in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) playoffs, is excited to be returning for another season.
“There's a real feeling of excitement around Niagara College. I see the administration at the institution having a true vision and I look forward to being a part of that,” says Atkin.
Niagara College Manager of Athletics and Recreation Matthew Davies says, “We are very excited to have Coach Atkin back at the helm of the men's basketball program.”
Joining Atkin this season will be some new faces for the fans to cheer on the court, including well touted recruiting acquisitions D.J. Campbell, a point guard who recently played his high school basketball in Houston, Tx., Levi Mukuna, a six-foot-three guard who graduated from the same high school as Knights 2012-13 MVP Jimmy Bilenga, and Anthony Mercanti, a former Hamilton Spectator and All-Ontario Catholic all-star.
Other new players include Shane Cupid, 21, who will be playing centre for the Knights. Cupid, enrolled in the Police Foundations program, is excited about his first year playing for Niagara and says the team has a high chance of being one of the top teams in the OCAA.
Cupid’s goals for the season include trying to get “every single rebound” and giving 300 per cent on the court. As a team, Cupid says the ultimate goal is to go to British Columbia for the championships, a challenge he assesses with a simple statement. “If we keep working like a brotherhood we can do it, no worries.”
Returning to help lead a team yearning to once again reach the OCAA podium for the first time since the 2008-09 season, will be guard Aidan Alize-Minty and forward Lawrence McNeil.
Alize-Minty, who shot 66.7 per cent from the line last season, will help a team that has struggled at times with free throws, while McNeil’s presence under the glass and rebounding ability will be valuable contributions for a revamped Knights team with big aspirations.
Alize-Minty, who was named rookie of the year last season, is confident this year’s team will be able to compete with the best in the league.
“Together we are a very deep team, which is going to increase the pressure against our opponents as we will be a nightmare to stop for a full 40 minutes,” says Alize-Minty. He added that the chemistry between fellow players this year is “like family”, which, he says, he feels will translate to on-court success as “families work better.”
Returning players and those entering their first year of “Knight” hood will be looking to replicate the successes of last year’s team MVP, the departing Bilenga, who was named OCAA West division scoring champion and second-team all-star, and guard Alex Campbell, who was also named to the OCAA West all-star team.
On campus, students’ expectations about the impending season depend on their sport of choice. Brooklyn Hodgkins, 19, says she would be excited if the Knights made it to the championships and would probably attend those games, however, Sara Berridge doesn’t have any games marked on her calendar as she is “really not into basketball.”
Amir Pobric, 19, a fan who created the “Niagara Hoops” initiative for fellow fans to discuss the sport and organize local pick-up games, has high hopes about the teams’ chances this season.
“The team, last year, was pretty good but with the players they have now, there is, for sure, potential for an even better season. Go Knights. Go!”
The next game is an exhibition matchup at Centennial College Oct. 9 against the Centennial Colts.
Niagara Knights: www.gonights.ca/sports/mbkb/index.
Niagara Hoops Program: www.twitter.com/niagarahoops