Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The culture change that happens when a new coach takes over a team that went 1-19 the season before is most certainly a process meted out over weeks and months.
Consider the MacEwan Griffins men's basketball team to be early into the transition under new head coach Mike Connolly as they go through the peaks and valleys in their journey to become a winning program.
"Like I said to the guys this year is we're trying to change the culture and move (forward) in a positive way," said Connolly. "Let's be realistic, we're not winning the national championship this year. We've got to make sure we do those things in order to have opportunities to win next year and the year after.
"We as coaches have to keep our path clear and straight as far as what we want to get done this year – our culture, our work ethic and how we want to build our foundation. Same with the guys, they've got to understand that's what we're doing, and we can't move on it until we've affected change in those areas."
The Griffins (0-2) head out on their first road trip of the Canada West season this weekend, visiting the Saskatchewan Huskies (2-0) on Friday (7 p.m. MT) and Saturday (6 p.m. MT, both games on Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
The Huskies, ranked No. 11 in the country, present a supreme test for the Griffins.
"Basically, we're still learning the process, but I think if we can go compete – compete hard because they're a big physical team – we can have some success," said Connolly.
It starts with a more consistent effort in practice, he says, which will set the tone for games. In MacEwan's two home-opening weekend losses to Mount Royal University, they lost the work ethic battle in the second half.
"I want to see us compete for a whole 40 minutes," said Connolly. "I think that was the biggest thing we didn't do is we didn't compete in the second halves of both nights. We slacked off defensively, we didn't rise to the challenge of defending our guy, so we have to correct those things.
"There's a couple of things – the guys have to take responsibility and the coaches have to take responsibility," he continued. "We have to hold people accountable better. Moving forward we'll be able to do a little better at that. Some of our young guys are playing well, so we can use them to keep some of the older guys accountable."
Second-year wing Abiel Tabufor is one of those younger guys who's setting an example. The Grande Prairie product scored a combined 38 points on 51 per cent shooting from the field in the weekend matches against MRU, adding 19 total rebounds.
"Right now, what he's doing that's allowing him to play is he's working hard," said Connolly. "He's grabbing rebounds, he's scoring within himself, not trying to do too much. He still has some things to learn defensively and some of our offensive concepts to remember what we're doing, but his effort is just above and beyond everybody else's.
"I explained to the guys on Monday when we watched video, when you play this hard, we have to play you. So that's the difference. Guys aren't playing as hard who expect to play."
The other part of the equation is the Griffins still haven't been able to get into the starting rotation the coaches envisioned at the beginning of the preseason. They're without 2018-19 leading scorer Jake Notice for the first semester due to an injury, haven't yet had injured second-year forward Alex Jap on the court and are just working veteran Dustin Gatzki back into the mix after being a late eligibility addition to the roster.
"When we get everybody together and we can do the things we want to do, our depth will be a difference-maker," said Connolly. "I think we are deeper than some teams and then we'll see what happens."