An OFSAA berth they did not see coming in December
by Randy Pascal
Taking a relatively young team to the OFSAA BoyS Basketball "AA" Championship in Timmins, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights will have to be
content with chalking up one win in three encounters.
For a team that may have surprised themselves by emerging as NOSSA champions one week earlier, just getting a chance to take part in provincials
provided a measure of success for the Knights.
“You look at the growth that we've had, starting out at 2-4, and then coming together as a team, figuring out how to play together,” said 18 year old
veteran Patrick Thom. “The real turning point was definitely the Guelph tournament. We were back on our heels as a team. The coach said that this
would make or break our season, that we just had to play like we had nothing to lose.”
“We won a couple of games against some really good teams that weekend and carried that momentum into league play.” While Thom is hardly a newcomer to
this squad, the fact remains that the 2018-2019 season is one he is sure always to cherish.
"I started playing basketball three years ago, that's it, and for the past couple of years, I've been at the end of the bench, cheering the guys on
rather than playing," noted the well-spoken teenager who will join the Laurentian Voyageurs baseball team in the fall.
"It's been a huge change this year," Thom noted. "I must have improved over the summer and with my age and leadership, I started coming on the court in
late game situations. It's a whole different thing, it's so much more fun."
Just 16 years old and in grade 11, Fraser Larocque is equally emblematic of the development of this grouping, with so many players taking a huge
step forward. “I've been playing basketball since grade six, but I guess this year is my breakthrough year,” he said.
“I see it mostly with scoring, knowing when to take good shots. If it's a shot that I can make in practice, then it's a shot I can make in a game. If
I shoot it at a high efficiency in practice, it should translate to the game."
Though there was certainly an element of revenge that would have accompanied another match-up with the Lasalle Lancers in the NOSSA final, Larocque
admitted that it was likely best for Lo-Ellen when the St Mary's Knights from Sault Ste Marie upset the local favourites in semi-final action.
"Seeing as we had already beat St Mary's, I found it better having to play them in the finals, rather than Lasalle, who we lost to three times in the
season," said Larocque. While the likes of Thom and Larocque have answered the questions, this year, regarding their ability to play at this level, court
general Abraham Soumahoro was more of a known quantity, his reputation as a local top-end talent already cemented via years of involvement in the
sport in Sudbury.
Despite that impressive resume, this constituted Soumahoro's first trip to OFSAA. “I was looking forward to the competition, to the increase in speed,
increase in power,” he said. “I want to play against those better players and see what it's like at that higher level.”
Interestingly enough, Soumahoro expected a difference between these provincials and any that he has attended in the past as a member of the Sudbury
Jam competitive basketball teams. “I think OFSAA is going to be a lot tougher,” he said. “Even though the plaers are just as good in club, high school
ball is more coached, there are more practices, more plays to work on.”
“It's just a fundamentally higher level of basketball.”
While Soumahoro was always a "go-to" player with the Knights, this year, right from the outset, a mid-season roster adjustment drastically affected the
type of presence that he would demonstrate on the floor.
"I usually wasn't the type to be vocal on the court," he said. "But when Callum (Bruser) left, it was a big hit on us. I was asked to be more
vocal, talk to the guys, try and be a leader, in a sense."
Given that Soumahoro has not yet decided on his academic plans for the fall, it's unknown as to whether he will inherit that same role come 2019-2020. If
not, someone from the roster that also included Jacob Schweyer, Carter Smrke, Brodie Erwin, Jamie Edkins, Bobby Sinclair, Ta Mbvaimbvai or Damon
Maltais will have to step up for coaches Mac Bertrand and Matt D'Alessandri.
Based on this past year alone, this looks like something that Lo-Ellen can handle.