WATERLOO, Ontario — The 2017-18 season provided a ton of promise for the future of the Laurier Golden Hawks.
The Golden Hawks finished with a record of 12-12 in the competitive OUA West Division, a record that saw them finish in fourth place, two points behind the Windsor Lancers for third spot. Laurier earned a spot in the OUA playoffs, but needed to play a first round game to advance them to the quarter-finals.
In their opening round game, the Golden Hawks took on the McMaster Marauders. The two teams split their two regular season meetings, with each team winning on their home floor. The rubber match saw Laurier extend their season with a commanding 102-76 win on their home floor.
Next time out, the Golden Hawks were on the road to take on the West Division champions, the Brock Badgers, in the OUA Quarter-finals. The Badgers were too much for the Golden Hawks from the outset, and Laurier’s season came to an end with a 91-73 loss to Brock.
This season, the Golden Hawks have the look of a team that can contend for the OUA West title and contend for the OUA Championship with the likes of the Carleton Ravens, Ryerson Rams, and Brock, among others. Laurier has its fair share of talent back from last season’s team, including the reigning OUA Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Year who will become a household name across the league and Canada this season.
After a .500 record a season ago, the Golden Hawks have their sights set on bigger things in 2018-19.
While the Golden Hawks finished with 12 losses in conference play last season, they could have picked up a few more wins if they were able to flip the script on a few of their close contests. Nine of their 12 league losses were by 10 or fewer points, and four of those nine losses were by five or fewer points.
Those games could have gone either way, but they went against the Golden Hawks in the end.
Their biggest losses came at the hands of the Laurentian Voyageurs (17 points), Waterloo Warriors (11 points), and Carleton (36 points).
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Golden Hawks have a lot of talent back from last year’s team that advanced to the OUA Quarter-finals, and that’s good news for Laurier fans and the coaching staff. Four of their top five scorers are back, which will give the offense a big boost heading into the new campaign.
Leading the way will be the reigning OUA Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Year, guard Ali Sow. The native of Ottawa, ON also earned himself a spot on both the OUA Men’s Basketball All-Rookie Team and the U Sports Men’s Basketball All-Rookie Team for his efforts over his first season with the Golden Hawks.
Sow put up some impressive numbers during his first season. He averaged 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while shooting over 45% from the floor and 37% from three-point range. In Laurier’s two playoff games, he upped his game on offense, averaging 20.5 points per contest while shooting over 52% from the field. Sow gives the Golden Hawks a top scoring option at the guard spot, but he can also get his teammates involved and rebound in the paint despite standing at just 6′ tall.
Fresh off his stellar rookie campaign, Sow is set to become a household name this season.
Back to anchor the front court is fourth-year forward Kemel Archer. Last season, the 6’5” forward from Brampton, ON averaged 9.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in just 18.4 minutes of action per night out. Archer was effective on both ends of the court in limited action which is a positive for the Golden Hawks as he gains more minutes.
In the playoffs, Archer kicked his game up a notch, much like Sow. He averaged 12.0 points and 9.0 rebounds over the two games.
Also returning in the back court are third-year guards Ntore Habimana (Mississauga, ON) and Matt Minutillo (Brantford, ON). Habimana averaged 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game over his second season with the Golden Hawks, while Minutillo 7.2 points and 2.6 assists per contest.
One player who is not listed on this year’s roster is guard Tevaun Kokko. He was named the team MVP for the 2017-18 season after averaging 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. Kokko was named the OUA Athlete of the Week and the U Sports Athlete of the Week on Monday, January 8th.
The loss of a player like Kokko is a big one, but the Golden Hawks have their share of talent back from last season to help make up for the dip in production. It also opens up a spot in the roster for one of Laurier’s five first-year players to step up and seize an early opportunity.
It’s no secret that the OUA East Division is stronger than the West Division, given the fact that the likes of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton and Ryerson reside in the division, among other talented programs. With that said, the West Division in the OUA is no pushover, and the Golden Hawks will look to continue their climb up the standings and contend for a division title and a league title.
With four of their top five scorers back from last year’s team, Laurier will look to take the next step in their quest to reach the U Sports Final 8. A top three finish in the West Division would be another positive step this season, and they could turn some heads and pull some upsets as the season rolls along.
– T. Bennett