Nova Scotia basketball teams head to Canada Games with conviction

There are approximately one million people who live in Nova Scotia.

This makes us the sixth most populous province in Canada behind Ontario (15 million), Quebec (8.5 million), British Columbia (5.25 million), Alberta (4.5 million) , Manitoba (1.4 million) and Saskatchewan (1.2 million). On paper, that makes Nova Scotia the David of basketball against Goliaths like Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

But recent history tells a different story. In the past 17 years of competition at the men’s and women’s under-15 and under-17 national championships, Nova Scotia teams have collected 19 medals, including four gold in four years.

So when Provincial Under-18 Head Coaches John Tramble (girls) and Patrick Havard (boys) talk about heading to the Canada Games this week in Niagara, Ont. with confidence in their teams, they have the evidence to back up what they say.

“One of my mentor coaches, Bev Greenlaw, won a gold medal at the Canada Games in 1987, so Nova Scotia has had great players and a great history for over 30 years,” Havard said. “They’ve also had years where they’ve been down, so it’s swinging on a pendulum. We are a small province, so we really need our best players to play to the best of their abilities when we get there to face the bigger provinces.

“Nova Scotia has a great basketball tradition that dates back to when Acadia and Saint Mary’s won national titles in the 1960s and 1970s. So we have a great history here and we’ve won gold medals and we know that these are difficult concerts. because it also depends on what the other provinces have. But we always go there to do our best and we believe in ourselves. I think we can do well if everything is okay. goes on for us.

Team Nova Scotia’s Ali Oluyole, right, throws a shot during a game at the Eastlink Classic at Saint Mary’s in July. -David Winston

To overcome some tough odds against the nation’s powerhouses, both coaches say the key is to outsmart and outplay their opponents. Nova Scotia players may not always be as big as their counterparts, but that’s out of their control. Playing hard and smart is not.

“When you face the best opponents, you’re always looking for mismatches or advantages that you need to work together to understand in order to improve your positives instead of them exposing your weaknesses,” Tramble said. “So even though it was a busy time around prom and end of school, we went to Montreal for the Slam tournament, which is one of the best summer tournaments in Canada. Our team has got to see competition from CEGEP and other Canada Games teams at this tournament, which certainly opened our eyes to how we need to compete.

“It was the first time that some of them went out of the province for basketball and were introduced to a different style of play. You really see when you get out of the province what other provinces are focusing on in terms of skill development, so that was great. competition for us. And we’ve really made progress since this weekend playing college players here, whether it’s exhibition or the Eastlink Classic. We just played a game against a mix of players from Dalhousie, SMU and MSVU and again, I just tried to expose our team to a different caliber of play to give us the best possible chance in Niagara. »

The two coaches also underlined why an aggressive team defense all over the pitch must be the basis of all success, especially against the bigger teams.

Nova Scotia basketball rosters for the upcoming Canada Games in Niagara, Ontario.  - Contributed
Nova Scotia basketball rosters for the upcoming Canada Games in Niagara, Ontario. – Contributed

“We really want to play at a fast but controlled pace and we really want to do that in committee,” said Tramble. “We have a range of players with different skills who can really have cohesion within the team. Mainly, we really have to do it on the defensive side. We have to really disrupt and play from 94 feet so that the teams who have a bit more height than us, we approach them early and kind of break them down before they hit the paint with their big ones.

“If we can put the pressure on the basketball for 40 minutes and play 94 feet, I like our chances of playing well together. But it really has to be done by the committee. We don’t have a superstar per se but we have a lot of stars so it excites us with the group that we have assembled.”

Havard has a few tall players on their roster, but the real athletic strength of their group is speed at guard and small forward positions. His team regularly uses full-yard zone presses to try and force turnovers that can lead to transition buckets.

“The good thing is the balls don’t change and the nets don’t change. The reality is we can just lock in and focus on what we do well. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”

-Patrick Havard, Nova Scotia Men’s U18 Head Coach

“That’s the level of intensity, team defense and hard work that I focus on the most,” Havard said. “We really have to push to be a much better defensive team and understand the work ethic that takes. If you use the right defensive coverage you can stop a bigger team, but there are also great athletes in the other provinces and that’s another part of We’ll be playing athletes they’ve never seen before – guys who can really run the field – so we have to work hard, be smart and play hard when you’re up against guys athletic. We’re a good team and if we can have that level of intensity and tenacity, these clashes will take care of themselves.”

The opening ceremonies are on Saturday and basketball competition begins on Monday with the boys taking on the Northwest Territories and the girls taking on Newfoundland and Labrador. These should be manageable opponents to start with, but no matter how Nova Scotia teams fare in the long run, this will be an athletic experience of a lifetime for the kids.

“Absolutely,” said Tramble. “It’s really important to put things in perspective and give them a great experience. I had the pleasure of being there in 2005 as a track athlete, so it’s pretty cool to come back as a coach. I know for myself, I look back and have fond memories. This is the high point for a lot of Canadian athletes who can’t necessarily move on and wear the sheet. maple on their chest. So representing your province before going to university makes it a very special summer and we’re also very lucky that it’s in Niagara. We have a beautiful country, but Niagara Falls is really a great destination for these athletes to discover.

Says Havard: “We’re all excited. The good thing is the balls don’t change and the nets don’t change. The reality is we can just lock in and focus on what we do well. If we do, I think we’ll be fine. We just have to take care of ourselves and do our best every night and our best attitude. We can’t let anything get us down or distract us. If we do that, it’s going to be a really nice outcome.”