SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.
The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.
While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.
To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.
That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.
From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.
Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.
Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the Sault College Cougars.
2018-19 in Review
The last couple of seasons haven’t gone the way of the Sault College Cougars in the OCAA. Coming into the 2018-19 season, the Cougars hadn’t won a game in more than a year, and were riding a lengthy losing streak to boot. They were looking to change their fortunes and avoid another winless campaign.
Instead, history repeated itself.
For the second season in a row, the Cougars were held out of the win column, finishing the year with a 0-20 record and in last place in the West Division. All of their losses came by at least 10 points, with their closest loss coming by 10 points against the St. Clair Saints, 79-69.
The Cougars struggled both offensively and defensively last season. They allowed their opponents to top the 100-point mark on 13 occasions, while their own season-high for points scored was 80.
For new Head Coach Patrick Murray, changing the culture is atop his to-do list in year one.
“The biggest challenge since taking over has been changing the culture,” said Murray. “Taking over a program that hadn’t won a game in two seasons is not an easy task…but as long as we can stick to the script, our program will be setup for the future.”
“Culture was, and is, the #1 goal for me to change and put in place”
Last season didn’t go as planned for the Cougars, to say the least. At the end of the regular season, teams hold Senior’s Night in accordance with the last home game to honour the graduating student-athletes. For Sault College, they honoured just one player from the men’s program.
Kevin Ramos (Brampton, Ont.) graduated from Sault College following the 2018-19 season. On the Cougars’ official roster online, Ramos was one of just two players last season who weren’t first-year student-athletes. Over 12 regular season appearances, three of which were starts, Ramos averaged 3.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per contest.
For the year, Ramos shot 30.8% from the field and 30.3% from three-point range.
The loss of Ramos delivers a shot to the experience level for the Cougars heading into next season. In terms of overall talent and their projected starting five, the roster remains unscathed. Murray will look to one of his newcomers to fill Ramos’ role off the bench this season.
“There will be a pretty large new group of players coming in with a couple returning players,” said Murray, when asked about this year’s roster. “The group will be young, but they are bringing in lots energy and hunger for success.”
While the 2019-20 roster hasn’t been fully announced for the Cougars yet this year, we are going to speculate on some players who could be back in a Sault College uniform for the 2019-20 season.
Leading the way is guard Stephen Miller (Toronto, Ont.). As a first-year student-athlete last season, Miller emerged as one of the more underrated talents in the OCAA. He posted 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per contest while shooting 36.6% from the floor. He had 14 games with double-digit points, establishing himself as one of the more consistent players in the league.
The one knock on Miller last season was his inconsistent shooting from three-point range. Miller shot just 20.3% from beyond the arc, leaving some points on the table. If Miller can establish a more consistent jumper, especially from long range, his game will ascend to star status in the OCAA.
In a small sample size last season, Kevon Clarke (Toronto, Ont.) showed the impact that he can have on the court. In 10 regular season games, Clarke avraged 13.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per contest. He recorded 10 or more rebounds on nine occasions, and he had six games with double-digit points, all of which were double-double performances. Having Clarke return this season would be a big boost for the Cougars.
Jimmy Thai (Etobicoke, Ont.) showed flashes of offensive talent last season, but he also disappeared at times throughout the year. Thai had 10 games with double-digit points, including a 33-point outing an a pair of games with 22 points. To counter that, he was held to four or fewer points on five occasion. Overall, Thai averaged 10.8 points per game on 33.8% shooting. If Thai returns, alongside Miller, the Cougars would possess an underrated back court tandem.
Despite playing just five games in 2018-19, Sheldon Goulbourne (Scarborough, Ont.) averaged 12.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per contest. Forward Andrew O’Brien (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) posted 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, but was limited to 27.3% shooting from the floor. Form an experience standpoint, both players would be welcome additions to a team that will be young again in 2019-20.
The 2019-20 season for the Sault College Cougars will feature its share of new faces, but for now, the Cougars have announced the commitments of two players ahead of the new season. Both players hail from Sault Ste. Marie, and given their strong high school careers in the area, consider it a win for Murray and his staff to keep them playing right at home.
Up front, the Cougars have added forward Matt Kment (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) to the mix. The 6’6” forward adds some much-needed size and athleticism to a front court rotation that had its troubles battling forward units with more size than them all season long. Kment’s athleticism will be a welcome addition in the paint on both ends of the floor for the Cougars this season.
In the back court, the Cougars have added another local player who brings with him a history of success in the high school level. Guard Gianni Viotto (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) adds talent to a back court rotation that features one of the more underrated guards in the OCAA in Miller.
The 6’2” guard was key in helping the St. Mary’s College Knights to the Northern Ontario Secondary School Athletics (NOSSA) title. Viotto and the Knights advanced to OFSAA as a result. With Sault College, Viotto will add size and some much-needed punch on the offensive end of the floor.
As the recruiting class gets announced, we will post updates on social media as time moves along. For now, the commitment of both Kment and Viotto is a step in the right direction or Coach Murray and his staff.
When asked about the recruiting class as a whole, Murray has a high level of optimism for the future surrounding the program.
“Our roster is going to be quite different from last year,” said Murray. “We will be much bigger than last year and have added some shooters to space the floor out.”
“There will be a mix of fresh players out of high-school, some previous Sault College players who hadn’t played the past couple of seasons as well as some new veteran players added into the mix.”
Is the 2019-20 season finally the year that the Cougars break back into the win column?
The Cougars haven’t picked up a win in OCAA play since the 2015-16 season, a stretch of 60 straight regular season games. With a new Head Coach, a new direction for the program, and a new culture within the team, the Cougars are trending in the right direction.
With a predominately new roster, the hard work begins now. The Cougars have worked throughout the summer to change the culture and perception of the program, both internally and externally ,and now it’s time to put their work to the test when the regular season rolls around.
The Cougars will look to put an end to their losing streak when they kick off the 2019-20 regular season on Sunday, October 20th on the road against the Canadore Panthers.
Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.
– T. Bennett