Coach 'K' predicts team will contend for AUS crown
by Corey LeBlanc
The StFX X-Men have what could be described as 'unfinished business,' when the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) men's basketball season tips off in early 2021.
The White and Blue ended last-season with a hard-fought loss to the eventual CIS silver-medal winning Dalhousie Tigers in the conference championship game.
"We were very competitive and – considering everyone from that team is returning, and we have added a strong recruiting class – we expect the same this season," veteran X-Men head coach Steve Konchalski says, when asked if he expects his team to compete for the AUS crown.
He notes Rick Plato-coached Dalhousie was – by far- the top team in the AUS last season, posting a 19-1 mark in the regular campaign, with their only defeat in conference play coming to the X-Men (78-77).
Konchalski says the experienced X-Men roster will be bolstered by five new recruits, including two with NCAA backgrounds.
Antoine Vernon, a 6'0" point guard, is the younger brother of X-Men associate coach Tyrell Vernon. He arrives via Oregon State University, while Jeremiah Usiosefe – a 6'5" guard-forward – comes from Western Illinois University.
He expects the pair "to help right away," while the recruiting class will also improve their depth.
Fifth-year guard Thomas Legallais says the duo "can really play," adding they have been "upping the intensity" in practice, while challenging everyone to bring their 'A' game.
"We have competition at every position," Konchalski adds.
He predicts the X-Men roster will be the strongest it has been "in eight to 10 years."
"It has made for some really spirited practices," Konchalski says of the competition for playing time.
Even though there have been limitations on practices – due to Covid-19-related health measures – he suggests his players' mental health has benefitted from being back on the court after a four to five-month layoff.
"I think it is the DNA of young student-athletes to compete," he notes.
Although the White and Blue are back on the hardwood, the three-time national champion head coach says they are "very limited in what we can do."
That's the case because provincial health rules limit the number of participants (10) in organized sports that can be together without social distancing.
Although they have been practicing in smaller groups, Konchalski notes practices have been "very competitive."
"Everyone has been going full out," he says.
Legallais says "everyone missed each other," in commenting on their return, which he notes came later than usual, considering players typically are back on the StFX campus over the summer to assist with basketball camps.
"We are really glad to be back," the native of Cornwall, Ontario adds.
Although there have been constraints, Legallais says the first couple weeks of practice have been crucial, considering several X-Men hadn't been on an indoor court for several weeks amidst the pandemic.
"It has been so beneficial," he adds.
With the anticipated widening of provincial restrictions coming October 1, including those related to organized sports, Legallais expects practices to become "more fluid."
With that change, Konchalski says the program plans to host 'Game Day' on Saturdays this fall – intra-squad games on Coach 'K' at the Saputo Centre on the StFX campus.
"It is something for them to look forward to," the X mentor says, when asked how coaches are working to keep their players motivated, considering the abbreviated conference season is not scheduled to start until January.
They will keep score – and statistics – during the scrimmages, which will also include officials.
"It will help keep things interesting [for our players]," Konchalski adds.
Although their practices have been high-energy, Legallais suggests the 'game day' events will be a "whole different beast."
He explains they will help the X-Men in a variety of ways, including coming up with individual pre-game routines – everything from meal selection on the night before, or the selection of warm-up music. And, of course, not to mention being able to prepare for game situations.
He credits Konchalski for his "experience and knowledge" in coming up with the idea.
"We are all looking forward to it," Legallais says.
The X-Men will host the CIS men's national championship tournament, which is scheduled for next March at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, which earns them an automatic bid in the eight-team field.
Conceding it is "still early," Legallais says the White and Blue are confident they can "compete for an AUS and a national championship."
"We felt that we had enough last season [to win]," he notes of the heartbreaking loss to the Tigers in last March's conference championship battle.
Legallais adds the team believes that they are the "favourites" to capture the AUS crown in 2021, which would be the first for the X-Men program since 2006.
This season will mark the 46th and final one for Konchalski as White and Blue head coach.
"We have our fingers crossed," he says, when it comes to the AUS hitting the court this season.
Konchalski adds – considering the uncertainty involved with the Covid-19 global pandemic – there are currently "more questions than answers."
Vernon will take over as X-Men head coach next season.