Underrated Tandem Ready to Lead the MacEwan Griffins in 2019-20

Connolly, Mike
Former NAIT Head Coach Mike Connolly is now the bench boss for MacEwan, and he’ll be looking to help the Griffins escape the basement of the Canada West standings. (Source: NAIT Nugget News) (Header: Canada West)

EDMONTON, Alta. — 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 program for the MacEwan Griffins.

2018-19 in Review

The 2018-19 season was a bit of a step backwards for the MacEwan Griffins, in terms of their overall record. However, a new Head Coach and the emergence of one of the brightest stars in the Canada West has created a sense of optimism around the conference.

After going 5-15 in 2017-18, the Griffins went just 1-19 last season. They finished in 16th place in the Canada West standings, one game up on the winless Trinity Western Spartans. As a result, the Griffins missed out on the playoffs yet again.

Their lone win came on January 25th on their home floor. After going without a win for the duration of the fall semester, the Griffins broke into the win column with a come-from-behind win on their home court over the Brandon Bobcats.

Entering the fourth quarter, it looked as though the Griffins would enter the final stretch without a win to their name. Instead, a valiant effort from the home side turned things in their favour. The Griffins outscored the Bobcats by a 36-20 margin in the fourth quarter, turning an eight-point deficit into an eight-point victory when all was said and done.

MacEwan came away with their only win of the year, 95-87.

The Griffins went 0-11 on the road last season, and 1-8 on their home floor. The down year promoted a change at the top, and the Griffins have added former NAIT Ooks Head Coach Mike Connolly to take control of the program. Staying in Edmonton, Connolly hasn’t had any issues with the transition thus far.

“MacEwan is a great academic institution,” said Connolly. “The Administration is very supportive of its athletic programs which makes the transition easy.”

Heading into the new season, the Griffins will be without four players from last year’s roster. With that said, they return an intriguing group, one that’s headlined by their leading scorer and a budding star that Connolly is excited to see play this season.

Who’s Gone?

With five players having moved on from the program following the 2018-19 season, the Griffins will have key rotation spots open for returnees and newcomers to compete for in practice. Three of the five players saw regular action for the Griffins last season, and Coach Connolly will look to others to recoup their production.

Dustin Gatzki (Westlock, Alta.) is the top offensive player gone from last year’s team. Gatzki averaged 8.2 points per game on 46.8% shooting from the floor and 74.1% from the free throw line. In addition to his offensive production, Gatzki had 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.

Also gone is Atlas St. Paul-Butler (Victoria, BC), and his production resembled that of Gatzki rather closely. St.Paul-Butler averaged 8.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per contest. He shot 36.9% from the field, 31.1% from three-point range, and 75.0% from the free throw line. Like Gatzki, St. Paul-Butler gave the Griffins solid production on both ends of the floor.

Hometown product Harrison Lane (Edmonton, Alta.) has graduated from the program. In 15 games last season, Lane averaged 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 28.4% from the field.

The pair of Griffin Lorenz (Camrose, Alta.) and Ben Niles (Kamloops, BC) are both not with the program in 2019-20.

Losing the likes of Gatzki, St. Paul-Butler, and Lane open up spaces in the lineup for others to step in and contribute. With three key rotation spots up for grabs, there should be a healthy level of competition and energy at practice for the Griffins this season.

Who’s Back?

The Griffins welcome back seven players from last year’s team in 2019-20 roster, most of which were key contributors. Five of the seven returnees averaged at least 5.1 points per game a season ago, and they will be led by two of the league’s brightest stars.

Leading the way is fourth-year guard Jake Notice (Bath, U.K.). Last season, Notice established himself as one of the top players in the Canada West, and he will be looking for more in 2019-20. Notice was the only player for the Griffins to average double-digit points per game last season, averaging 16.1 points per outing. In addition, Notice posted 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, all while shooting 42.6% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc.

Over the course of the year, Notice was a consistent force on offense. He had 10 games with at least 20 points, five of which came in succession from November 10th through 24th. Down the stretch, Notice closed the season with some of his best individual basketball of the year. He recorded six straight games in double-figures to close out the year.

Notice will be looking to build off last year’s standout performances and take the lead role once again in 2019-20 for MacEwan.

Notice, Jake
Jake Notice has emerged as one of the top players in the Canada West, and he will look to help MacEwan climb out of the basement in the standings in 2019-20. (Source: Canada West)

One of the more intriguing prospects for the Griffins is Abdullah Shittu (Edmonton, Alta.). Entering his third season with the Griffins, Shittu has worked on his game and body throughout the summer, creating a heightened sense of optimism around his game for Coach Connolly.

“I am really excited to see how Abdullah Shittu grows this year,” added Connolly. “He has had a great off season of training and we expect him to step up and be one of our better players at both ends of the floor.”

Shittu posted 9.3 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per game last season. He shot 36.9% from the floor and 75.0% from the free throw line for the season. Like Notice, Shittu closed the season with some of his best basketball of the year. He had three straight games with double-digit points to close the year.

Deonte Doslov-Doctor (Edmonton, Alta.) is also back this season, and he will give the Griffins significant contributions while also adding a veteran voice to the mix. He posted 8.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game last season for a solid two-way stat line. Doslov-Doctor had 12 games with at least five rebounds, and he recorded at least three assists on 13 occasions.

Doslov-Doctor’s ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor is a big plus for the Griffins this season, and his veteran presence will do wonders for the incoming recruits.

Also back this season are key role players like Alex Jap (Sherwood Park, Alta.) and Luke Harold (Regina, Sask.). Jap saw the floor in all 20 games last season, averaging 16.3 minutes per game off the bench. He posted 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 52.3% from the field.

Harold saw the floor on 16 occasions, averaging 13.9 minutes per game per appearance. He posted 5.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest on 38.9% from the field and 35.7% from three-point range.

Abiel Tabufor (Grand Prairie, Alta.) and Jesse Trussler (Regina, Sask.) are also expected back in 2019-20.

The Griffins have an intriguing group of returnees this season, led by Notice and Shittu. Add in a younger recruiting class that’s headlined by an ACAC veteran, and the Griffins are slowly starting to turn things around.

Incoming Talent

In addition to their seven returnees, the Griffins have added six players on the transfer market. Two of their additions come from the ACAC ranks, while the four remaining players come from various high school programs around Alberta and Manitoba.

The biggest addition for the Griffins this season is Mason Hunter (Edmonton, Alta.). Hunter comes to MacEwan after playing with the Augustana Vikings in the ACAC North Division. With the Vikings last season, Hunter led the team with an average of 15.6 points to go along with 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest.

Hunter will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership for the younger players on the roster, while also assuming a starring role on offense. Pairing Hunter with Notice gives MacEwan an intriguing pair leading the way this season.

Also making the move from Augustana to MacEwan is Eddie Nkerabahizi (Spruce Grove, Alta.). The 6’4’’ wing will give the Griffins some size in the back court, and his versatility will allow for him to play different positions in the lineup throughout the season.

In terms of first-year players, the Griffins have added three players from Alberta and one from Manitoba. Greg Wint (Winnipeg, Man.) comes to the Griffins from Murdoch Mackay Collegiate, and the 6’5’’ guard brings size to the rotation in the back court.

Hometown guards Grayson Youngs (Edmonton, Alta.) and Colton Halbersma (Edmonton, Alta.) opted to stay home to begin his post-secondary career. Up front, 6’5’’ forward Noah Lehto (Sylvan Lake, Alta.) adds depth to the forward contingent this season.

“We brought in mostly young first year players who will develop and grow into their positions,” added Connolly. “They may not have the experience but they will be able to contribute in many ways to help the team succeed.”

“We feel we have a tough young recruiting class who has the work ethic to help our program now and in years to come.”

Equipped with a new Head Coach, veteran leaders, and an incoming transfer who can help lead the team on offense, the 2019-20 edition of the MacEwan Griffins are an intriguing bunch.

Notice and Hunter give Coach Connolly an underrated tandem in the Canada West, and they can both impact the game on both sides of the ball. Add in a breakout candidate like Shittu, and you can begin to see why the Griffins have a heightened level of optimism heading into this season.

Last season, the Griffins were seven games out of a playoff spot at year’s end. While that’s a big hill to climb this season in terms of a win improvement, expect the Griffins to take another step forwards as they change the culture of the program and work towards getting back into the Canada West playoff picture.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s