NORTH BAY, Ont. — The off-season leading up to the 2019-20 season has been an eventful one for the Nipissing Lakers.
Former head coach Chris Cheng accepted the vacant position with the Windsor Lancers to become their newest head coach after Chris Oliver stepped down at year’s end. The move ended Cheng’s tenure with the Lakers, one that saw him grow the program from the ground up to where it is now.
Now, Thomas Cory is the new bench boss of the Lakers, making the move from the Algoma Thunderbirds to Nipissing University to begin the next chapter of his coaching career. Originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Cory is the second head coach in Nipissing history after a 12-year tenure at Algoma.
Cory was named the first head coach in Thunderbirds history back in 2006.
With his new team, Cory has begun putting together a competitive roster that will look to compete for an OUA crown in 2019-20. On Tuesday, the Lakers announced the commitments of two players to the program, both of which are familiar faces to Cory from his time at Algoma.
The pair of David Bokanga (Montreal, Que.) and Marlon Lafortune (Montreal, Que.) have committed to Cory and the Lakers after their tenure at Algoma. Both players stand at 6’5” and will bring size and versatility to the rotation for the Lakers in 2019-20.
Last season at Algoma, Bokanga ranked fifth on the team in scoring, averaging 8.5 points per contest. He saw action in 24 games during the regular season, making 20 starts along the way. Bokanga shot 33.2% from the field and 73.3% from the free throw line.
Over the course of the year, Bokanga posted seven games with double-digit points. He reached his season-high of 16 points on two occasions, one of which game in the regular season finale against Windsor. Bokanga closed the regular season with 16 points, on 6-of-12 shooting, while adding four rebounds and three assists.
Lafortune was used in more of a reserve role last season. He saw the floor in all 24 regular season games for the Thunderbirds, but made just five starts. In 19.1 minutes per game off the bench, Lafortune averaged 5.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.4 assists per contest. He shot 31.7% from the floor and 73.3% from the free throw line.
Lafortune’s best game of the year came back on January 12th against the Western Mustangs. Despite Algoma’s 92-70 loss, Lafortune made the most of his 24 minutes off the bench. He went for a season-high 21 points while shooting 7-of-14 from the floor, and 4-of-7 from three-point range. The performance wash is first of two double-digit scoring games for the year.
The addition of two familiar faces to the rotation for Cory will give him a sense of familiarity as he begins his first season at Nipissing. Both players will bring a wealth of experience with them to their new program, and their understanding of Cory’s systems will make their transition a bit easier.
For the Lakers, they will be looking for players to step up and carry some of the offense that will be missing due to the graduation of fifth-year guards Marcus Lewis (Brampton, Ont.) and Jerron Rhodes (Scarborough, Ont.). Lewis led the team with an average of 19.1 points per game in 12 regular season appearances last year.
Cory and the Lakers open the 2019-20 season with a four-game home stand. Their season gets underway on October 25th when the Queen’s Gaels visit the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletics Centre.
– T. Bennett