Pizza De­light X-men In­vi­ta­tional to tip-off this week­end

The Casket - - Sports - COREY LEBLANC coreyle­blanc@the­cas­

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.

Strong camp

“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.

Im­por­tant pre-sea­son

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.

Richard Macken­zie

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.

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