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The answers will be unveiled on the court
2022-01-09
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How would the Laurentian Voyageurs attack the basket now that perennial all-Canadian Kadre Gray has moved on to the pro ranks?

How would a group of athletes who had not played a truly meaningful game in almost a year and a half find a way to come together, as a team, and translate potential into results?

There were far more questions than answers as coach Shawn Swords prepared the L.U. crew for OUA play three to four months ago.

And with an extended Christmas break hiatus and a record of 3-3 in the contests that they have been able to play, Swords is not about to suggest that he has all of the answers in place, just yet.

"It's just so difficult this year compared to so many other years," said Swords. "It was interesting to see the new players and even some of the older players who were adapting to new roles."

There is still much to learn, and with the Ben Avery Gym as his classroom, the one-time member of the national team knows that the lessons of one game must carry into the next, with the Voyageurs gradually developing an identity of the team that they are, the team they can be.

"We're asking these guys to do a lot more than they have previously done," said Swords. "There is some time needed to get comfortable with that. We don't have a dominant player this year like Kadre, but we do have a lot of talented players."

"I think we're trying to put in a style that is more free-flowing, with lots of opportunities for different guys to show their stuff."

That variety is being evidenced on the scoresheet.

Fifth year guard Haround Mohamed lit up the Waterloo Warriors to the tune of 41 points in pre-season play. Sophomore Cedric Mbiaba went off against the University of Toronto in regular season play, dropping 38 in against the Varsity Blues.

Mohamed (18), Mbiaba (13.17) and Gaetan Chamand (12.83) are all averaging double digit points per game, with Jordan Katchunga (9.20) just barely below that standard. "You can see the strides," said Swords.

"In all of the years that I've coached here, my style of play offensively is definitely to get the ball into the hands of our best players to make decisions, to put them in positions to help our team be successful with the ball in their hands, more often than not."

And to some extent, the team has responded. "I thought we did some things well for some portions of the games that we played," said Swords. "It's just trying to reach that consistency - and also some continuity in the roster."

That element of the unknown is forcing Swords and his staff to constantly balance between the strategies discussed before tip-off and the discoveries being made on the fly.

"We go into each game with an idea of where we think that we are stronger offensively and how we are going to attack what they do defensively," stated Swords. "Those are ideas that we have in place."

"But on the same level, we want guys to be able to prove to us what they can do. Within the parameters of what our system is, we do have guys being put in different spots, asking them to do a little bit more and seeing if they can do it."

"And then we adjust."

Defensively, Swords has narrowed his focus, keying on that one single factor that he believes most coaches will stress, time and time again: communication.

"We do some good things defensively," he said. "We're fairly flexible with our style of defense and what we can implement, throughout the game. This group has struggled a little bit this year with just being able to talk through certain situations, and I do believe that comes with not having played enough games with each other yet."

"There is a connectivity that you will develop just from playing with a guy for so many games."

All told, Swords is more than a little optimistic, anxious to see what might lie in store for a core of athletes who have not yet had the opportunity to shine, at least not in the way previous renditions of the team could do.

"I like what I see from a lot of the guys, kind of showing people that they can play," he said. "I've been impressed with this group, their drive, their willingness to be in the gym a ton."

"Kadre pushed me to get in the gym more than any other player I ever had and that's kind of spread through our team now. I think this group is smart enough to really see what we are trying to do. I would expect us to be tough to beat, when we come back."

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