The Canada Basketball U15 Nationals are still two months away but we now know who will be wearing the territory’s colours on the hardcourt in August.
Basketball NWT finalized its boys and girls rosters on June 11 and they both feature a mix of raw youth and big-game experience but both head coaches know they will be up against the wall when it comes to the competition.
The girls had their training camp late last month with a total of 21 girls trying their luck. In the end, head coach Cole Marshall chose 14 players – 12 regulars and two alternates – to prepare for battle in Fredericton, N.B., the location of this year’s girls event.
“We have girls who are Arctic Winter Games veterans and playing against teams like Alaska will help them,” said Marshall. “They’ll still be up against it and it’s going to be an eye-opener, especially for the girls who have never seen this level before.”
The tournament’s round-robin format means the NWT not play against the top teams, which includes Ontario, the defending champions, before the crossover round and even then, it’s highly unlikely they would ever see them at that point. They will be in a three-team group for the round-robin, which will include themselves, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s a set-up Marshall likes.
“It’s never fun to play the big teams like Ontario and Quebec,” he said.
This is only the second time a U15 girls team from the NWT will play at nationals, the last time being 2015, when Marshall also served as head coach. They played Newfoundland and Labrador back then as well and were in with a chance at halftime in that contest before falling off in the second half.
Marshall isn’t sure of what to expect this time around.
“There’s no way to tell what’s coming,” he said. “We lost by 30 points to them three years ago but they were a bigger and faster team than we were. That being said, if we play a good game and they have a bad game, you never know.”
This year’s girls squad is young with some players in Grade 7 making the cut and while there isn’t a lot of veteran leadership like the team three years ago had but one thing Marshall has is players who can move the ball, which will be key to keeping them competitive.
“Naomi Yukon, Mia MacInnis and Mali Straker can all move the ball well and get it over half,” he said. “They’ll be able to handle the pressure that I know will be coming from the other teams. We’re young but I don’t see it as a disadvantage because the girls we have like to play that hard brand of basketball and aren’t afraid to get physical.”
For the boys, 16 made the final cut after their camp this past weekend, consisting of 12 regulars and four alternates. Just like the girls, there is big-game experience in the form of Kevin Santos and Jordan Balsillie, both of whom played at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, and Leslie Karembera, who played at last year’s U15 nationals.
Matt Craig is this year’s head coach and said he’ll be looking to his veterans for leadership.
“Those guys who have experience will know what it’s like,” he said. “This is a much higher level than these boys have ever seen and they know the expectations. We aren’t going in with the mindset of causing a huge upset because it’s such a different level of basketball than we play here.”
The boys will be playing in Kamloops, B.C. and will be in a three-team pool as they take on Nova Scotia and B.C. in the round-robin. Their crossover games could see them play any one of the big four: Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan or Alberta.
Craig said if there’s success to be had, it will come after the crossover games and in the seeding pool.
“It’s going to be tough, I won’t lie,” he said. “I don’t foresee us getting out of our pool and into the playoffs. We’re looking at the games after the crossover against teams like P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador because those will be our competitive games. We need to be realistic about our chances because we can’t compete with provinces like B.C. simply because of population.”
When it comes to preparation, Craig is giving the boys the responsibility of keeping themselves in shape courtesy of workout plans that they need to follow.
“The players are taking it upon themselves to do the extra work,” he said. “In past years, it was all about basketball but now they have the workouts and if we can get them fit, we’ll be able to close the gap on the physical side and we could have a chance that way.”
FACT FILE – Yellowknife players on Team NWT rosters
- Kevin Santos
- Jordan Balsillie
- Gabriel Fillion
- Jack Nevitt
- Joelin Murphy
- Leslie Karembera
- Chase Clarke
- Charles Valerio
- Brendan McAllister*
- Mali Straker
- Mia MacInnis
- Lillian Casaway
- Taya Straker
- Drew Wolfe
- Lili Newberry
- Alison Anstey
- Kaitlynn Kenny
- Jordan Muchenje
- Abbey Newberry*
* – denotes alternate
source: Basketball NWT