QUEBEC, QC–The entire Laval coaching staff had a hunch at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season.
Perhaps it was the close 87-80 defeat against the Maine Black Bears last August or the team traveling to Morocco in September, but at some point head coach Jacques Paiement Jr understood.
“We have a mature team full of veteran (players),” recalls Paiement.
For that reason, expectations have been high all season long for the Rouge et Or (9-3) to reach Halifax for the CIS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship from March 11-13. The head coach would love nothing more than to give the chance to many of Laval’s older players, who participated in the Final 8 at the beginning of their career, to repeat the experience.
“So far, it has gone relatively well,” says Paiement. “We are first in our division and have been ranked in the top 10 since the beginning of the year. It’s going well, but we are far from the level where we want to be.”
A first step would be to conclude the regular season right where they are, allowing Laval to host potentially two playoff games on their campus at the PEPS.
“This would be huge,” says Paiement.
A by-product of competing in the small RSEQ is that Laval schedules many games out of its division.
“For sure, we played a lot of games this year,” says Paiement who thought his veteran team could benefit from a heavy workload. The Rouge et Or coach especially liked the 3-game road trip to Utah where the team, notably, played against two Top 25 Division I teams in BYU (7th, 22-2) and Utah State (21st, 22-2).
Paiement left Utah impressed both by the NCAA’s leading scorer, Jimmer Fredette of BYU, and by the quality of the American teams. “The best teams are really much better in the US,” says Paiement. “(They have) bigger athletes and bigger budgets. We can’t compare to the 50 or 60 best teams of Division I.”
Back on Canadian soil, Paiement believes that the Carleton Ravens are “far and away the best team.” The Rouge et Or hope to get another crack at the number 1 team in Canada which beat them 99-81 last October.
Since the beginning of the season, expectations might have been high for Laval, but it still had to fulfill them. Paiement was definitely pleased with the way rookie Hughes Ryan played before injuring himself a month ago; but a rookie can’t carry the team.
“We still needed big seasons from our veterans,” says Paiement. “Guys like Jérôme Turcotte-Routhier, (leading scorer) Jean-François Beaulieu-Maheux, Xavier Baribeau and Étienne Labrecque… have met expectations and know what it takes (to win).”
What it also takes is good team depth and while the Rouge et Or might not depend on one player as much as BYU does on scorer extraordinaire Jimmer Fredette, it has many dangerous ones.
“Someone new steps up every game,” says Paiement. “For any team to have success in (the RSEQ), it needs to have good depth. I believe it is one of our strengths.”
The RSEQ likely agrees by now.