Sr. hoopsters boast strong squad

Dan Falloon

The Muskie senior boys’ basketball team was a strong one last year, falling just a single point short of winning the NWOSSAA crown and advancing to the all-Ontarios.
With much of the crew returning this year, along a strong contingent moving up from the junior ranks, the black-and-gold have set themselves up to be similarly strong once again in 2010-11.
Longtime head coach Paul Noonan also is back in the fold after taking last season off.
Kevin Gemmell led the team in his absence, guiding Fort High to the best-of-three NWOSSAA showdown, where they fell 50-49 in the deciding game.
“I don’t know whether you would call it a sabbatical that I took, but it was a combination of factors that brought me back,” Noonan explained.
“Kevin was moving back to Stratton, and with the team that was on the horizon, it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting, let’s just put it that way.
“It’s a pretty exciting-looking squad,” he enthused.
The squad will open action this weekend at the “Tiger Tip-off” tournament in Thunder Bay.
Noonan anticipates the group will learn a lot about itself this weekend, and one of the games against a Lakehead team could be a potential NWOSSAA preview.
“It’ll be a good chance for us to size up the competition in Thunder Bay,” he reasoned. “We will be going back for another tournament, the St. Ignatius tournament, in January.
“We’re not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Noonan added. “But we know that’s where a lot of our competition will come from, in addition to NorWOSSA.”
Noonan stressed the Muskies also are looking to resolve the heartbreak of last year’s ending, but knows there still are a number of games to be played before getting a chance to avenge.
“They have their heart set on not having that happen again,” said Noonan. “We’re going to do whatever we can to take the opportunities where they are, and hopefully we can make that run.
With Justin Anderson and Josh Strain returning for a final year, and a fine core to support them, Noonan is thrilled with the Muskies’ ability to keep coming in waves and not let up.
“I’d have to say our biggest strength is the depth of the team we have this year,” he remarked.
“We don’t just have four or five starters and maybe a strong sixth man,” he noted. “We’re strong right through most of the bench.
“I’m not uncomfortable putting anybody on in a critical situation,” Noonan continued.
“These guys, all of them, have good basketball skills.”
That strength all through the lineup should serve to take some pressure off the top players, and also allow the Muskies to better react in a variety of situations.
“I think that’s going to help us in the long run, if we get into a situation where maybe somebody’s in foul trouble,” Noonan explained.
“You can always turn to somebody else.
“I think that depth will serve us well down the stretch,” he added.
The black-and-gold should be able to put up some significant numbers on the scoreboard again this season, so with the likelihood that the offence should flow, Noonan is placing a strong emphasis on defending.
“What we’re focusing on is defence,” he remarked. “We are going to be very aggressive defensively—in your face defence.
“These guys are going to be going after the ball and hopefully keeping opponents on their heels.
“When you do that, lots of positive things happen,” he reasoned. “You get steals, you get fast-break opportunities.
“As far as the offence is concerned, like I said, with the skill level that we have with these guys, I think we’ll do fine on offence.”
Noonan also is excited to see what Anderson and Strain bring to the table this year, noting they’ve built off impressive seasons in 2009-10.
“They’re stronger than ever,” he observed. “The more you mature into your position, the better the ability is to see the floor.
“These guys seize those opportunities and just attack. That’s what really makes them exciting.”
Noonan also cited big men Chris Legg and Garnet Paxson as returning players with an impact, and adding Dustin Eyolfson is strong at forward.
But the squad also is excited by its pick-ups from the junior Muskies, who rolled to NorWOSSA gold last season.
“[Harley Mainville] is another big fella that’s 6’5” and has some good shooting ability and good ball-handling skills, so we’re looking for some good things from him,” enthused Noonan
“We’ve got guys like Brandon Sinclair, who’s also a very strong guard,” he added.
“He loves attacking the basket and is very aggressive on defence. He likes creating steal opportunities.”
As well, Noonan is expecting some big things from a pair of Grade 10 players who were too talented to leave with the juniors for one more season.
“We also have a couple of juniors that moved up early, Will Anderson and Caleb McIntosh,” noted Noonan.
“In the 2-3 guard positions, they’ll see a lot of floor time this year.”
After this weekend’s tournament in the Lakehead, Fort High will host one Dec. 10-11 before starting the NorWOSSA season here Dec. 14 versus Dryden.
Then they’ll head to Kenora on Dec. 16 before the schedule breaks for Christmas.