The Niagara News is the community newspaper of Niagara College located in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. It is created and produced by the students of the Niagara College Journalism program.
The Niagara College men’s basketball team was hit with surprising news just one month before the season when head coach Keith Vassell agreed to become the head coach of the London Lightning of the National Basketball League of Canada.
Mike Hurley was announced as interim head coach shortly after Vassell’s departure.
Hurley faced a tough task. With no time to recruit for the upcoming season, he is now looking to lean on the returning players from last year’s fourth-place finish to lead the way, as well as a few recruits to make an immediate impact.
He is looking to Levi Mukana, Van Hutchinson, Jordan Wilson and Jordan McDonald to return and be a big part of the success he hopes to have this season, as all finished in the top seven of points, rebounds and assists per game last season.
“All four are going to be major impact players… They’ve been here before and will help the program.”
A few recruits who have stayed committed to the Knights after the coaching change who look to make an impact in their first collegiate year are Brent Ghikadis, Devonte Bennett as well as a St. Paul Catholic high school graduate, Johnnie Richardson.
“All three of them are freshman and one or all three could eventually step up and be a reliable rotation piece.” said Hurley.
The Niagara Knights men’s basketball team practices in preparation for their upcoming season. PHOTO BY BETH AUDET
One under-the-radar player who could be an impact player is Marcus Bonnick. He has collegiate experience, playing for the Rowan Burlington Barons (NJCAA DII) in 2015-2016, bringing the Knights some experience.
“He’s not a true rookie, if he gets himself ready, he could be an impact player for us.”
Hurley is looking for the Knights to build all year, to be playing their best basketball at the end of the year. The OCAA championships will be hosted by the Knights, with a shot to punch their ticket to nationals at home, playing their best during this time is essential.
A few games to keep an eye on are a few mid-season matchups with perennial powers Sheridan and Humber on Nov. 28 and Dec. 9. These will be a chance to gauge where the Knights sit going into the Christmas break.
“Those games are important. They will be tough, big games and will indicate where we are at,” said Hurley.
The Knights finish the season with four games against teams who finished last year under .500, and Hurley believes those last few weeks may decide how the Knights roll into provincials.
“We will have to wait and see, but it could be something that will get us in a groove, and fosters a winning mentality and positive momentum going into the playoffs.”
The drawback of not seeing the top teams for a few weeks also means bad habits can develop at the wrong time.
“If we don’t take it serious we could not be as sharp as we would be playing against the traditionally strong teams,” warns Hurley.
With the off-season behind them Hurley and the Knights look forward to their first exhibition game on Sept. 27 against Centennial, before season play begins at home on Oct. 20 against Mohawk.