BURNABY — For Simon Fraser men’s basketball fans, the news of this past Oct. 23 was something to behold.
After an extended stretch of being picked to finish at the bottom of the standings, the coaches in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference picked the Clan to finish third in the 11-team NCAA Div. 2 loop this season.
And after a 5-1 preseason, Simon Fraser (15-14 overall, 9-11 GNAC last season) will carry a five-game win streak into its conference opener Tuesday (7:30 p.m., Clan TV) atop Burnaby Mountain against its perennial rivals, the pre-season GNAC No. 1-rated Western Washington Vikings.
And coming out of the preseason, head coach Steve Hanson explained Monday afternoon that he’s facing a pleasant dilemma heading into the new campaign.
“It comes with different problems, and ours are good ones,” said Hanson, whose top five scorers all emerged from the six-game non-conference slate hitting in double figures, including the team’s senior point guard Michael Provenzano, who is also tasked with keeping a cache of hungry scorers happy.
“The guys have to understand that there’s just one ball,” said Hanson, “and that there are a lot of other roles to be filled from defending to rebounding. But absolutely, having a starting five all capable of scoring is a special thing.”
The 6-foot-8 junior forward Jasdeep Singh, huge last season in averaging 11.4 ppg, came to camp a new player this season, and it’s been reflected in the team-leading 18.8 ppg (and 5.7 rpg) the former Delta Pacers star has supplied.
“Last year he wore a t-shirt, this year he’s proud to show off those muscles, and why not?,” joked Hanson of Singh, who added seven-to-eight pounds of lean muscle during the off-season, adding to both his strength and dynamic abilities in the tight, physical windows so prevalent in the GNAC trenches.
“He’s put in the time and just understands what we expect of him,” adds his coach.
The 6-foot-11 junior forward Julian Roche has been a rebounding force at 8.0 caroms per contest, along with 11.8 ppg.
And sophomore swingman Wilfried Balata has shown excellent progress from his energetic but foul-plagued freshman year, sitting second in scoring at 18.5 ppg and grabbing a team-high 8.5 rpg.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the Clan have an all-senior starting back court in Provenzano and Othniel Spence (14.5 ppg), the latter capable of taking over games as a prodigious scorer from the outside and in transition.
Provenzano seems also set up to have a big, big year.
The GNAC’s assists leader at five per game last season, he played just four preseason games, where he averaged 5.5 helpers per contest.
Yet with what looks to be a solid 10-deep type rotation, and with the way he has continued to hone his game the prior three seasons, Hanson thinks his assists numbers could take a quantum leap this season.
“We have a lot of guys that can fill the bucket, and I think this is the kind of year where he could average 11 assists,” says Hanson. “Mike has always had that spark and the ability to get a big bucket for us, but this year, more guys need to touch it on the offensive end, so that is a fine balance for Mike.
“We just have to understand and have the mentality that some nights, certain guys will score, and on other nights, it will be others,” Hanson added. “When we’re unselfish, we can be really good.”
The Simon Fraser women’s team opens Tuesday by facing Western Washington at 5:15 p.m.
On Thursday, Montana-State Billings comes to SFU, with the men opening against the Yellowjackets at 5:15 p.m., followed by the women tipping off at 7:30 p.m.
The GNAC campaign then takes a break until the new year, when the men play host to Northwest Nazarene on Jan. 2 and Central Washington on Jan. 4 in a pair of 7 p.m. tips.
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