By Thomas Becker
With eight fresh faces on the roster, Panthers head coach Darrell Glenn is excited to put all the hard work to the test when the season starts this Friday.
"This group really loves being in the gym and working on their game and we're excited to get started," he said.
Rookie standouts Elijah Miller and Kamari Scott will get the bulk of the minutes at the two guard spots along with veterans Jack MacAulay and Dakelle Brooks. Miller in particular can carve up defences with his driving ability, which could open up looks for shooters, especially MacAulay.
"The new guys have come in and been great," MacAulay said. "They were ready to work from day one and I've been impressed with how much they've grown and adjusted to the AUS game already."
The frontcourt, meanwhile, will be led once again by Jamesley Jerome, who's coming off an All-Rookie campaign in which he averaged 11.3 points per game with 6.7 rebounds.
Like his coach, Jerome is confident in his team's ability to stop the opponent. It's only a matter of how much work they want to put in on that end of the floor.
"My expectations for us is to be a great defensive team, because I feel like the talent is there," Jerome said. "The only thing separating us from the other teams will be our level of competitiveness every night. We have to play hard and execute on both ends of the floor."
Supporting him upfront will be by familiar faces Vernelle Johnson and Samuel Campbell, while first-year bigs, Magdi Tiea and Emmanuel Ndatuje, bring some much-needed height (six-foot-eight and six-foot-10, respectively) and skill at the forward positions. Both players are intriguing prospects with huge upside as they each have the ability to impact the painted area and step outside with their shot if defences play off of them.
The Panthers don't have the luxury of an All-Canadian scorer, but what they do have is depth and Glenn believes several of his players can go for 20 points any given night.
"We have that firepower, I just don't believe we have it on a consistent basis every single night from certain people," Glenn said. "That's why it's so critically important that we're excellent on defence and contesting shots."
Too often, when the offence wasn't clicking, it'd affect their effort on defence – the one element they can control each time down the floor. That needs to change if a playoff berth is in their future.
"Last year we were the kind of team that would give up easily when we were down by 10-plus points," Jerome said. "This year we have a group of guys that will play hard no matter what the scoreboard says."
Outside of the UPEI faithful, not many people are looking at the Panthers to do much this season, as evident by the conference's latest coaches' poll. But with that criticism comes motivation and this team is ready to get to work and prove their doubters wrong.
"It's going to take a lot of discipline and hard work to get back to the playoffs," MacAulay said. "If we stick to the grind and keep working like we have been, hopefully we'll find ourselves there."
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