Local boys basketball on the upswing
by Randy Pascal
For some time now, Sudbury has produced a relatively steady stream of female basketball talent, local elites capable of moving on to play at the
post-secondary level on both sides of the border. Truthfully, that shows no signs of slowing down.
Yet it can be argued, quite easily, that the major benefactor to the one club system integrated under the banner of the Sudbury Youth Basketball
Association (SYBA) a half decade ago or so has been the male counterparts to this female success.
Formalized as the Sudbury Jam, right across the board, for all of the competitive boys and girls teams in this area, SYBA can now boast a full
slate of squads for the lads that cover every single age bracket working up from 12U or younger, right through to the 17U groupings and above.
Furthermore, each of these teams features a roster with recognizable top-end talent, collections of young men growing stronger with every passing year,
and becoming increasingly competitive on a provincial scale.
That certainly appears to be the case with head coach Denis Lessard and the 16U Jam crew, though his situation is not much different at all that
most of his brethren who handle the reigns of the teams that were previously the Sudbury Selects.
“There has been a core of five or six guys that have been here since pretty much U12, and we’ve been adding almost every year, getting stronger and
deeper,” said Lessard. Regardless of the sport, that is something of a change in direction in this neck of the woods, where teams struggle to retain talent
as the young athletes begin to reach their older teenage years.
But for Lessard and company, there is a beneficial double-whammy at play. Not only is more talent being merged into the mix annually, but the blossoming
group is becoming something larger than the sum of their parts, taking their game to a whole new level, partially because they are being pushed to do so by
the regular new arrivals.
“I have seen these boys mature to the point of focusing not only on offense, but getting to know what their responsibilities are on defense,” noted
Lessard. “They are just gradually getting excited about defence now - that takes a long time to incorporate.”
“Defense is the key to winning games,” agreed Brennan LaPierre, one of two twins manning the guard position for the team (along with brother
Liam). “We get stops and score on offense. We have to be aggressive in our own zone, closing out shooters, getting stops.”
Like his coach, LaPierre admitted the benefit that comes with an expansion of talent with the Jam over time, versus the contraction that is typically
seen. “We’re a much better team this year than in previous years,” said LaPierre. “We have better players coming out each year from high school.”
Players like Lasalle teammate Eric Senechal. “I joined three to four years ago,” said the 15 year old entrusted with manning the post position
with this team armed with a glut of outside shooters.
“On offense, size doesn’t matter much, our guys can create for themselves,” said Senechal. “But on defence, it’s sometimes tough juggling two bigs. It’s
been getting a lot better, I’ve been getting a lot more help recently. That’s definitely what I am focusing on the most.”
And with the 16U provincials set for Ottawa on the weekend of May 12th to the 14th, the Jam are putting to finishing touches in place for what they hope
will be a memorable performance. “Being as deep as we are, with shooters all over the place, it’s actually quite fun to watch them go and perform on the
court,” noted Lessard.
“Creating team spirit is something I’ve been working on for a few years,” he continued. “When things are going well, everyone is pumped. When things are
going bad, that’s where we really need to shift the paradigm of thinking, stay positive, dig deeper and work harder.”
“We have to come out playing strong every game,” added LaPierre. “The games we came out slow, we had to really come back in the second half.” Senechal,
meanwhile, pointed to a couple of key areas as the season winds down an end.
“Not panicking with the ball is really a big deal for us,” he explained. “We’re much more focused now on what we need to do. Specifically this last
tournament, we played against some much bigger guys and we didn’t get scared, we didn’t shy away from the ball.”
“And we need to stay on task. When we’re not focused, we’re not playing to our full potential. Our shots are off, we’re not making the right decisions,
so we just need to stay on top of that.” And in so doing, the Sudbury 16U Jam boys should take their rightful place as yet another solid squad in the
stable of male talent that is being produced in these parts these days.
“There’s a lot of the younger kids that like to talk a little bit of smack,” said Senechal with a smile. “But I think we’re pretty well known. Guys
recognize that we play some pretty good ball.”
The 2016-2017 roster for the 16U Jam boys includes Anthony Rogerson, Abraham Soumahoro, Cedric Lessard, Miguel Poulin, Félix Tubin, Liam LaPierre,
Carter Smrke, Mathieu Michel, Andrew Gauthier, Eric Senechal and Brennan LaPierre.