BURNABY — Kedar Salam isn’t going to get a taste of the post-season over his final year of college basketball, yet Simon Fraser’s senior guard is proving to everyone around the Great Northwest Athletic Conference that over the 2017-18 campaign, he has been its single greatest offensive threat.
“It’s not like he’s just getting points at the end of games if we’re down 20 or up 20,” remarked Clan assistant coach Sean Shook on Thursday after Salam (formerly Kedar Wright), the 6-foot-3 senior from Toronto, dropped 31 points in 29 minutes in carrying SFU (4-13) to an 81-53 shellacking of the visiting Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (8-9) in what was the most decisive conference win in the program’s eight-year NCAA Div. 2 history. “He has done it consistently.”
The Salam-fueled win provided the largest margin of victory since SFU’s 25-point win (98-73) at Northwest Nazarene on Jan. 23, 2014 and it upped his GNAC-leading 21.1 points-per-game scoring average into the Clan’s final home game of the season, a 7:30 p.m. tip Saturday against the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (8-9).
With the Seawolves, as well as road dates at Concordia (0-17) and Western Oregon (14-3) remaining next week to wrap up the season, Salam’s scoring average has him almost three full points per game ahead of Northwest Nazarene’s Obi Megwa (18.2) and 3.5 ppg ahead of the third-place pairing of Western Washington standouts Trey Dreschel and Daulton Hommes, each at 17.6 ppg.
Yet as Saturday’s Senior Night festivities loom, and Salam prepares to be honoured along with fellow senior starters JJ Pankratz and Iziah Sherman-Newsome, both recently absorbing season-ending injuries, the check-marks on his personal resume are somewhat dulled to him when placed against the team’s win total, which while already twice as good as last season, still has the Clan near the bottom of the standings and eliminated from the post season.
“Of course, I like to win,” Salam stated firmly, following the victory over Alaska in which he went 5-of-8 from three-point range. “It’s been a struggle mentally to maintain composure as the season has gone along, through the losing streaks, the ups and downs. Obviously it’s a good thing to play at a high level, but I’d like to get a few more W’s.”
A DOWNHILL FORCE
Kedar Salam’s ability to heat up in a hurry has been in evidence throughout his senior season, where he has led or tied his team for most points in 12 of the Clan’s last 13 games.
Included were 40 in a win over Central Washington, 35 in a win over Seattle Pacific, and of course 31 in Thursday’s win over Fairbanks.
Salam, who has integrated a sculpted physique and attacking mindset in perfect unison this season, showed early that he was ready to have one of those nights against the Nanooks, and when you ask Shook about the game plan, it’s pretty simple.
“At this point we have to get him going,” begins Shook of a Clan team which has had to cope with the loss of starters Pankratz and Sherman-Newsome down the stretch of the campaign. “Once he does, it really opens up things up and you saw that with Jordan (Muir-Keung, who added 19 points and was 5-of-6 from distance). We don’t want (Kedar) settling (for shots) early. We want him going down hill. He is tough and physical and we want him to get those touches because he is like a bowling ball.”
Key in his cache?
The ability to rise for treys without needing to get into a rhythm, and an attacking penetration dribble that has so many different finishes that Salam seems to have the West Gym crowds’ rapt attention for what might come next.
“If anybody knows me, since high school I have been a gym rat,” begins Salam, a Toronto native who attended Sir Edmud Campion High and spent his first two seasons playing across town for the UBC Thunderbirds.
“I am always in the gym and I think that what I’ve been able to show comes from my work ethic,” he continued. “Since I was a rookie, we’ve seen flashes of it but it has definitely been good to maintain that consistency throughout the year.”
What makes Shook marvel is the fact that, with Pankratz and Sherman-Newsome both injured, opposition squads are throwing all of their attention at Salam.
“It’s not that teams aren’t coming in with scouting reports,” says Shook, “and the fact that JJ and Iziah are out, and he can still come in and score? Their focus has to be ‘Don’t let No. 11 get buckets’ but he’s still able to do it.”
We put him in spots to be able to score, but it’s his work ethic that does it. It’s the time he puts in.”
You see it on shots that, with every other option exhausted, still find a way to fall because Salam has amped his creativity and skill up to circus levels.
“But you can’t just say ‘Oh, he pulls it out,’” continues Shook. “Kedar will spend 25 minutes just working on right-handed hooks around the rim. He wants the touch and the feel to be just right.”
GNAC SCORING TITLE IN HIS SIGHTS
Simon Fraser has had its share of great scorers in past GNAC seasons.
In fact in 2010-11, the team’s first GNAC campaign, the ex-Div. 1 duo of Ricky Berry (22.6 ppg) and Justin Brown (21.6) finished second and third overall for head coach James Blake’s 2-16 team.
And in Blake’s final season (2014-15), SFU’s NCAA-best conference campaign, superbly-talented point guard Sango Niang was electrifying for a 6-12 team, winning the GNAC scoring title at 23.3 ppg.
Salam follows in their tradition and despite the lack of team success, he has helped carry the program to up another notch in its growth. He also brings great defence, and is among the steals leaders in the conference.
And if he can win the scoring title, it certainly won’t hurt him chase his next set of goals.
“I’d definitely like to play at the next level,” he says of what would likely be a pro career overseas. “It’s always been just a dream, to wake up and go do what I love.
“And that’s not to say that academia isn’t a wonderful thing,” continued Salam, the only Clan men’s basketball player named to the GNAC’s all-academic team this season. “I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to pursue my education here. But ever since I’ve been a little kid, my dream has been to wake up and go work on my game. For it to be a part of my lifestyle for at least another chunk? I want that opportunity.”
Shook agrees that Salam has done everything in his power this season to help improve the fortunes of a Clan men’s basketball program on the rise.
“Unfortunately we’re playing out our last three games,” says Shook, “but Kedar has taken pride in trying to knock off some (playoff) teams. This is a very tough league, and so many of the guys to win scoring titles have been the Div. 1 drop-down guys. But he’s not. To have a chance to win the scoring title, that’s not an easy thing to do.”
The SFU Clan women’s team faces a must-win situation Saturday (5:15 p.m.) when it hosts Central Washington. Five of the GNAC’s six playoff sports have already been filled and SFU looks like it will need to win all three of its remaining games while getting some help in order to secure the last post-season berth.
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