River Lions open camp
Victor Raso enters his fifth training camp with the Niagara River Lions with a familiar game plan.
“Structurally, it is a little bit different but it is not too far off from what I have always been doing,” Raso said Wednesday, following the team’s opening practice at Canada Summer Games Park. “The mornings are a lot about teaching and this year we have added a little bit more competitiveness to the mornings. The evenings are all games.”
What has changed in the head coach/general manager’s approach is understanding what is most important.
“Earlier in my coaching career, I wanted to put a million things in because I was worried about the short amount of time. I have realized that the most important thing in the end are the fundamentals. I need to simplify it, not over-complicate things for the guys and make sure the most important things stay the most important things.”
The goal for the training camp which runs from May 17 to 24, is to build those fundamentals.
“We have fundamentals on offence, defence and transition and it’s understanding that and the discipline required to be able to accomplish them.”
At training camp Wednesday were Jake Babic, Jahvon Blair, Isaiah Bujdoso, AJ Davis, Shaquille Keith, TJ Lall, EJ Onu, Lloyd Pandi, Vinnie Shahid, Jordan Tchuente, Connor Vreeken, Alonzo Walker and Aiden Warnholtz.
British import Patrick Whelan arrived Tuesday night and will join practice shortly while Phil Scrubb will arrive as soon as his season ends in Spain.
“It is a 10-player active roster and I could keep up to 14 players but I will only keep 12 and that is for salary cap purposes,” Raso said. “Right now, I could probably tell you who my 10 (roster) players are and realistically there are 13 guys competing for 12 spots.”
Raso had a clear idea of what he wants the River Lions to be.
“I know the pieces we have and to me, if this piece performs better that that piece, than this is the direction we are going. I know Phil is easy to integrate and I don’t have to worry too much about that.”
One thing Raso is hopeful of is that none of his players will leave his roster at any time during the season to play for a team in the NBA summer league.
“There are guys who have the potential to go but as of right now, all of conversations have been that they don’t want to go.”
He admits having players leave and come back is not an ideal way to have your team in top form for the playoffs.
“The first year was the only year I had the same group the entire year. You have a few injuries here and there but everyone is together. Every year since then, it has changed.”
One year, all three of the River Lions’ American players went to play in the summer league.
“I want to recruit the guys who could go to summer league but at the same time I don’t actually want them to go to summer league.”
Raso is hoping his team can get over the hump this summer and win its first Canadian Elite Basketball League championship.
“I have learned that I can’t let that anger swell up. I have to learn from it and do a better job and have the right demeanour now.”
He knows what went wrong last season.
“We didn’t lose because of talent or ability. We lost because our team was more emotional than it was solid. This year from the start I am trying to make sure we are really solid so when emotions come we are ready for it.”
Players underwent medicals and combine testing at Pelino Athletic Performance Centre early in the week before camp began. Intrasquad scrimmages are scheduled for May 19 and 23 at 4 p.m. at Canada Games Park.
The River Lions will tip off the season May 26 on the road against the Montreal Alliance. Niagara opens at home June 3 against the Saskatchewan Rattlers. Season tickets, voucher packs, group tickets, and single game tickets are available now. Visit www.riverlions.ca/tickets for more information.