LLOYDMINSTER, AB–The team based in Lloydminster, Alberta competes in the ACAC’s North Division, where they carry a league record of 16-0 and overall record of 24-1, dropping their only game to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
“The Lakeland Rustlers are proving themselves to be the team to beat in Alberta,” says CCAA national men’s basketball convenor Jeff Harris, who’s responsible for the CCAA national rankings.
“They put up a lot of points, which could make them tough to knock out.”
“In my 17 years of coaching, I’ve never had a more focused group,” says Sambu.
“They’re a great bunch to coach. When you’ve got a team with the right attitude, with the ability to dig in, the results can be outstanding.”
A prime example is Lakeland point guard Njuguna Waiganjo‘s scoring record; he’s first in the CCAA men’s basketball stats with an average 25.93 points per game. His performance last year with the Algonquin Thunder made him a 2011 CCAA All-Canadian.
Lakeland’s success in the CCAA national rankings isn’t without precedence; they were nationally ranked throughout the 2010-11 season, including one week at first place.
But it was the NAIT Ooks who took the ACAC provincial championship, and the Lethbridge Kodiaks who earned a wildcard spot.
NAIT would finish the 2011 CCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship just out of medal contention, while Lethbridge went all the way to the gold-medal game, losing an achingly close match to Quebec’s Vanier Cheetahs.
“We had a lot of first-year players last season,” says Sambu. “Both Lethbridge and NAIT were good teams with good coaches. We saw how disciplined and focussed they were.”
Alberta has fared well at CCAA men’s basketball national championships in recent years, with medal finishes in 2011 (Lethbridge Kodiaks, silver), 2010 (SAIT Trojans, silver) and 2009 (Mount Royal Cougars, gold).
But Sambu’s not ready yet to discuss his squad’s chances.
“There’s still four games in the regular season. Anybody’s good to get there. We’re trying to humble ourselves.”
Should they make it to the national stage, Sambu already knows the competition will be tough. He highlights several nationally-ranked teams, including the Humber Hawks (2), VIU Mariners (3), Vanier Cheetahs (4), MSVU Mystics (5) and Indiens du Ahuntsic (14).
“They’re all well-coached, high calibre teams, teams we respect.”
Making the countdown to Nationals all the more thrilling.
The 2012 CCAA Men’s Basketball National Championships will take place March 15-17, 2012 at NSAC in Truro, N.S.