The 2013-14 edition of the Wichita State Shockers were one of the best teams in recent memory in college basketball, by far.
While the Shockers ultimately fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Round of 32, that was their only blemish of the year. They finished the season with a record of 35-1, running the table in the regular season before falling in the NCAA Tournament.
Gregg Marshall’s squad had the likes of seniors Cleanthony Early, Nick Wiggins, Chadrack Lufile, and Kadeem Coleby, and a slew of young stars who were household names later in their careers. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleetwere both sophomores at the time, while Tekele Cotton was a junior, and Shaquille Morris was only a freshman.
After graduation, the senior class went separate ways. Early was drafted by the New York Knicks, and Lufile was drafted by the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the third round of the NBA D-League Draft. The Canadian big man played just nine games for the Skyforce due to a torn ACL.
Now, his basketball journey has brought him back to where it all started.
With the 2016-17 NBL Canada season under a month away, teams are starting to assemble their training camp rosters, and get the right pieces in place as they embark on the journey towards the NBL Canada Championship.
Even though each team protected six players from last year’s roster at the start of the off-season, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe from off-season moves.
On Tuesday, the London Lightning and the Windsor Express pulled off a trade that will drastically shake up the lineup for both teams moving forwards.
Don’t look now, but the NBL Canada has quietly become a premier destination for players who are looking to earn contracts overseas or in the NBA.
In the last 18 months alone, a slew of former NCAA stars have taken to the court in Canada, either starting their professional careers right out of college, or with the hopes of re-launching their careers.
Last season, the likes of Brandan Kearney (Michigan State Spartans/Detroit Titans), Sherron Collins (Kansas Jayhawks), Stephen Maxwell (Cal State Northridge Matadors), and several other former NCAA stars were on NBL Canada rosters. Maxwell was named the NBL Canada Rookie of the Year in his first year out of college, and has his sights set on the NBA D-League in 2016-17.
In 2016-17, more NCAA talents are making their way north of the border. The Moncton Miracles added a pair of Division I talents, signing Russell Byrd (Michigan State) and Darius Jones-Gibson (Samford Bulldogs) to professional contracts, while several teams drafted Division I talents in the inaugural All-Canadian draft.
However, it was the Island Storm who made the biggest free agency signing of the off-season so far.
After a shaky East Coast road trip, the London Lightning couldn’t wait to get back on their home floor.
The Lightning went 1-3 over the past week against teams from the Atlantic Division, including a 119-107 loss to the Halifax Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Back home in front of their home crowd, the Lightning were looking to get back on the right track as the playoffs are quickly approaching. A big first quarter put the team on the right track, as they reeled off a 25-5 run over the last 6:52 to blow the game wide open.
From the outset of Wednesday, it was destined to be a good day for the London Lightning.
The Lightning hosted “Be a Champ” day inside the Budweiser Gardens, an event for the Thames Valley District School Board. Lightning guard Ryan Anderson showcased his talents for the audience, putting together a spectacular singing performance and showing that he is much more than just a sharp-shooter from long distance.
Then, in the pre-game ceremonies, the Lightning Dance Pack aided in a wedding proposal that had everyone in a good mood before the game started. NBL Canada ambassador Saidat was surprised by her partner as the dancers did a performance to Bruno Mars’ ‘Marry You’.
She said yes, and the night was already off to a good start.
London was looking for one more win on their home court before heading off on a week-long road trip to the East Coast. They were taking on a Niagara River Lions team who was on a bit of a roll, going 9-5 since their coaching change that saw them promote Grace Lokole from assistant to head coach.
For the better part of the 2015-16 season, the London Lightning have been at the top of the Central Division standings. While they no longer have the league’s top record, they are arguably the top contender for the NBL Canada championship.
As of late, the Lightning have seen their lead atop the division standings cut down to 2.5 games coming into Saturday’s game. The Windsor Express lost to the Niagara River Lions on Saturday, giving London an opportunity to stretch their cushion to 3.5 games with a win on their home court.
For the second time in four days, and third in the past month, the Lightning took on the Orangeville A’s. Back on Wednesday, the A’s got the better of the Lightning, coming away with a 103-91 victory.
Early on, it didn’t look good for the Lightning on their home floor. They found themselves trailing by as many as 19 points late in the third quarter, and they looked to be well on their way to another loss at the hands of Orangeville.