Contributed by: Ryan Bird (@RBird99)
Sudbury, Ont. – After a tough road loss to Guelph last weekend, there are some questions that could be raised surrounding Laurentian men’s basketball. And while the quandaries can be made, one thing that definitely is not in question is the performance of their star guard, Kadre Gray.
The start to Gray’s season has been absolutely incredible; there is no other way to put it. Six games in, the Toronto, Ont. native is leading the league with a ridiculous 34.5 points per game – 12 points clear of anybody else in the conference. He also adds 7.2 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game, while shooting over 52% from the field.
Last year it seemed that Gray produced a near perfect season, being awarded the OUA and U SPORTS Male Athlete of the Year awards, in addition to a host of additional hardware, and it seemed like there was no more room to improve. Yet again, however, he is proving everyone wrong, as the Voyageurs standout is shaping up to become one of the greatest athletes the OUA has ever seen in just his third year.
Despite the individual accomplishments, it is obvious that Gray gives everything he has game in and game out not for the stats, but in order to win games. And for Laurentian to take the next step and rack up even more wins than last year’s successful season, it needs to be about more than just Gray.
For the team to make a deep run, and to take some of the pressure off of Gray in terms of minutes played and seemingly unmatched ability, his fellow Voyageurs need to be a factor. Off nights will come, the long season will take its toll, and even though he seems all but invincible at the moment, the season can be a roller coaster for even the best in the business. All that said, the rest of the roster will be critical when going up against tough divisional rivals like Carleton, Ryerson, and Ottawa – especially down the stretch.
This key conundrum has become even more pressing this year because of the departure of two key players from the team’s 2017-18 roster. Nelson Yengue and David Aromolaran were two important assets for the Voyageurs last year, averaging 15.5 and 14.2 points respectively. After losing these talented veterans – the second and third highest scorers on the team – Laurentian has looked for growth in the rest of their players to compensate, and they have started to see just that.
Third-year forward Josis Mikia-Thomas is one example of a player that has made great strides this year, bumping his scoring average from 6.3 to 9.5 points per game. The work that Mikia-Thomas put in on his shot is clear, as he has been shooting considerably more three balls than last year and they are finally going down. His rate this year has gone up to 43% compared to last year’s mediocre mark of 27%. Unfortunately, Mikia-Thomas was unable to play two games this season due to injury, but with injury comes the opportunity for other players, and once again, fellow Voyageurs have stepped up.
After a few solid performances off the bench, rookie Joseph Hlady was called upon to fill the starting position at the four position for Laurentian. Since taking on the starting spot, Hlady has been Laurentian’s most consistent scoring option next to Gray. He is now up to nine points per game, making it hard for his coach to take him out of that starting spot and it will be interesting to see how Hlady and Mikia-Thomas’ minutes will be managed when both are at full health.
There are a few other players on the Voyageurs that are also destined to break out soon and provide more support for the contending squad. Veterans JD West and Anthony Iacoe take the most shots next to Gray, with the former having demonstrated a smooth shooting stroke through his career at Laurentian. If he continues to shoot the ball with confidence, it is only a matter of time before those shots go down and his field goal percentage gets back to normal. This would be a massive plus for Laurentian, as having another reliable perimeter threat on the team would stretch defences effectively and take even more pressure off of Gray.
Iacoe is another player that hasn’t been draining shots consistently thus far, but has shown a great scoring touch at times. Laurentian fans should look for both of these individuals to catch fire and hit double-digit scoring soon, and if they do manage to find a way to make more of a difference, this Laurentian team can easily become an increased threat in the talented OUA landscape.
The bottom line for the Voyageurs is when Gray is going, so does the team. Sure, the reigning MVP may be the team’s lone scorer in double digits, but if the right guys at the right time step up to help win games, the pieces will continue to fall into place for Laurentian. The team has a solid mix of capable players around Gray that have the potential to get hot at any given time, and when they do, the sky is the limit and the talent is certainly there to bring a championship to Sudbury.