When the weather starts to turn crisp, it means the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) men’s basketball season isn’t too far off.
Currently, the GPRC Wolves men’s basketball team is working hard in the school gym with a pre-season tournament going on next weekend in Three Hills at the Prairie College Tournament.
In the meantime, it’s the wait that’s the killer.
“I’m so excited,” third-year guard Jeremy Pynn said. “I know the guys on this team have been working really hard all summer and all pre-season to get this going. I’m excited to see what this team can be.”
Pynn seems to be referencing about some point in the future but it’s the present tense and near future that appears to be where the difficulty might present itself for this team.
In the interim, it might he a bumpy road getting the roster up to ACAC standard.
Not necessary in the talent level—Wolves Head Coach Evan Lloyd thinks they’re OK that way—but more in the physical realm. Eight players on the team are directly out of high school so playing against men will be something the coach will have to manage.
“The biggest challenge is getting them prepared for the fact they’re going to be playing against 23-year-old and, in some cases, 28-year-old guys,” Lloyd said. “Next weekend, in pre-season (action), their eyes will be opened to the level of competition we’re going to play against, (all the) while teaching them what we need to do to be successful at this level. I’ve got great group of guys who are willing to learn and willing to work. We’re not where we need to be right now but we’re in the process of getting there.”
On the 15-man roster Liam O’Hallahan, Darian Goertzen, Tucker McLeod, Josh Burnstead and Pynn are the returning players from last year’s team that won 11 games and finished fifth in the North division.
“Although we’re smaller than previous team, we’re definitely more athletic,” Lloyd said. “We have a bunch of guard and wing guys that can get out in transition and finish at or above the rim. With high school players, they’re not physically developed so it’s getting to that point where they can use their athleticism a little bit more.”
From the group, I see a lot of good athletes,” Pynn added. “Some guys are very raw but have a lot of potential and they’re willing to learn. They just want them to get better and that’s the most important thing. We don’t expect them to be all-stars right off the bat but if they want to come in and learn, work hard in practice, that’s what we care about.”
Lloyd went on a salesmanship binge after the season ended in February, as the third-year head coach picked up 10 new players, via the thankless task of recruiting.
“This year was more difficult (to recruit),” Lloyd said, while noting a few would-be recruits didn’t live up to their end of the bargain. “We would have looked a little different if those guys had followed through. It’s a great recruiting class, regardless. We have a lot of great pieces (and) if we can keep them for three years this team is going to look pretty good.”
Lloyd doesn’t seem to find the competition with other schools bothersome when in the hunt for a limited number of players. For him, it’s the distance.
“We’re so isolated in Grande Prairie, it’s finding time to go to tournaments that are in December and (it makes it tough) when we’re competing (in the ACAC) almost every weekend,” Lloyd said. “Trying to get out and find those players before provincials, or if they’re in Grade 11, building those relationships (so) we can get them here right out of high school.”
Tight turn around
The Wolves play the least amount of pre-season games in the north at five. After the Prairie College tourney next weekend, the team will play the NAIT Ooks on Oct. 18 and 19. As an example, the Ooks will play seven and the Keyano College Huskies play nine pre-season games.
“I would like more pre-season games but that’s the challenge we face here, where we have to drive,” Lloyd said. “It is what it is but we’ll make it work, It will be a quick turnaround but the guys will make quick adjustments and be ready to go.”