Pizza Delight X-men Invitational to tip-off this weekend
The new look St. F.X. X-men will tip-off their pre-season this weekend on ‘Coach K’ Court at Oland Centre on the Antigonish campus.
They will host the annual Pizza Delight St. F.X. Invitational, a four-team tournament, which will have an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) flavour.
The opening game is scheduled for Friday (Oct. 5), at 6 p.m., when the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Dalhousie Tigers take the court.
In the second semi-final, set for 8 p.m., the host X-men will battle the rival Cape Breton University Capers.
“There are plenty of unknowns,” veteran head coach Steve Konchalski said of the match-up, noting the X-men have seven new players, including six freshmen.
He added the Capers, after back-to-back cellar-dwelling campaigns, have only three returning players from last season.
CBU also has a new head coach — Matt Skinn — a familiar face not only to Caper fans, but also St. F.X. supporters.
This will be the second goaround leading the Capers for Skinn, who resigned prior to the 2016-17 regular season. Prior to his first tenure, which included an AUS crown, he coached the St. F.X. X-women.
Last season, the former CBU player was an assistant coach with the U Sports champion Calgary Dinos, which included Antigonish native Andrew Milner on their roster.
“Matt is a big-time recruiter,” Konchalski said, adding Skinn has been able “to bring in talent wherever he has been.”
As for Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie, he suggested those programs “figure to be further along [in their development],” considering they have more returning players than the X-men and Capers.
Konchalski talked about key pieces for the Huskies, including conference all-star Kemar Alleyne and U Sports freshman of the year Nikita Kasongo.
Sharpshooter Alex Carson will lead the way for the Tigers, who have added size up front in 6’11” forward Mike Shoveller, a fouryear player for the Queen’s Gaels.
The losing teams, from the Friday night games, will play Saturday (Oct. 6), at 6 p.m., in a consolation game.
The tournament championship match-up, which will pit the semi-final game winners, is set for 8 p.m.
“I am so pleased,” Konchalski said, when asked to assess the X-men’s training camp and preparations for the start of another campaign.
“We are going to be a work in progress, but I am really excited about this young team.”
He noted the X-men’s “inexperience will bite us, at times,” especially early on.
“But, we have such a great competitive mindset, which is going to help make up for that,” Konchalski added.
The roster turnover for the Blue and White includes the departure of veteran starters Kevin Bercy, Julius Antoine, Cameron Walker and Davonte Provo, who completed their five years of eligibility.
“It is going to be an interesting year because we have so many new faces,” Konchalski said.
Along with the infusion of youth and their continuing development, he added, the X-men will have to rely on several returning players taking on expanded roles.
“They are both great shooters and they know how to score,” Konchalski said of Tristen Ross and Justin Andrew, who are fourth and third-year guards, respectively.
Jayden Smith will also return to the back court, after earning a spot on the AUS rookie team last season.
Forward Daniel Passley, in his fifth-year of eligibility and third season with the X-men, will be “a key in the front court.”
“He has been a role player for us, off the bench, but we are going to need him to shoulder a bigger load this season,” Konchalski said.
Azaro Roker, a six-foot-six forward from the Bahamas, who the head coach described as “an incredible athlete,” will have to do the same.
“He has shown flashes, but we are going to need him to be a steadying influence in the middle and a rim protector,” Konchalski said.
He noted Roker has put in the work, since arriving on the X campus, including adding 25 pounds of muscle.
“We think Azaro is ready to break out [this season],” he added.
While pre-season games are always crucial, when it comes to helping teams to prepare for the regular campaign, Konchalski agreed it is “more magnified” this year.
“We have six players with zero U Sports experience,” he said.
Konchalski added it will be a “baptism by fire” for the newcomers.
Along with this weekend’s home court debut against strong competition, the X-men will face the defending national champion Dinos, two-time U Sports silver medallists the Ryerson Rams, and the perennial powerhouse Carleton Ravens during the preseason.
Truro native Tristen Ross, a fourth-year senior guard, will be one of the key veteran leaders for a St. F.X. X-men line-up that will have seven new players, including six freshmen, this season.