Monday, November 9, 2009

Rookies show their stuff

On Friday night, the Gryphons men’s basketball team opened their regular season against the Carlton Ravens. A quick glance at the schedule, rosters and team histories suggested that this was going to be a blowout – one not in favour of the Gryphons. The Gryphons were without two of their top players, as both Dan McCarthy and Jon Moscatelli watched from the sidelines with injuries and the Ravens, despite losing three OUA all-stars to graduation, were fresh off their second consecutive national championship, their fifth title in the last eight years.

Safe to say, the Ravens are a perennial powerhouse, while the Gryphons were left with two returning starters in Jay Mott and Mike Petrella, a handful of backups, and a slew of no fewer than six rookies.

If other Gryphon fans weren’t shuddering at the potential for a bloodbath in this game, I sure was.

Lo and behold, the new-look and undermanned Gryphons showed me up, and showed the entire league that despite all the unfamiliar names, the new kids on the block were here to play. The Gryphons fell 75-74 to the Ravens after a last-second shot attempt fell short, but nevertheless, the performance was incredible, in what was probably the most exciting basketball game that this campus has seen in years.

Mott and Petrella did their usual thing, scoring 22 and 19 points respectively, with Petrella adding ten assists while Mott drilled five three-pointers. It was the performances of the rookies, however, that kept the Gryphons close, particularly down the stretch.

Start with the bigs.

John Brutto, one of the top-ranked centres in Canada coming into university, sports a wingspan that is no less than seven feet wide. He was inserted directly into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact at the defensive end. In 16 minutes, Brutto grabbed four rebounds and two steals, despite drawing the toughest defensive matchup of the game, trying to guard against the Ravens’ Kevin McCleary.

Brutto was joined in the frontcourt by six-foot-ten Colton Hood, who played sparsely, but showed a knack for attacking the basket and using his size effectively.

Matt Howlett was the third Gryphon forward to make an impact, scoring nine points in 19 minutes off the bench, and did a great job of bouncing back after struggling with his shots in the first half.

Now look at the guards, Adrian Achonwa and Drew Morris.

Achonwa was placed in the starting lineup for his first ever university game, and did not look out of place. His tenacity on defence and ability to drive and penetrate in the lane was definitely a welcome sign. It seems that once again, head coach Chris O’Rourke has successfully recruited an outstanding local talent; Achonwa played high school basketball at Centennial CVI, the same high school where last year’s rookie standout, McCarthy, came from.

Morris, a smallish point guard, was the rookie who really stole the show. With 12 points in 22 minutes, Morris was the rookie who received the most critical playing time down the stretch, making big shots time after time while protecting the ball, and even grabbed a pair of huge offensive rebounds, keeping drives alive despite his lack of size.

If you were to just look at the stat sheet, these performances might look ordinary and uninteresting. On Friday night though, their showings were far from the norm.

They came out and showed they belonged.

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