Scott Morrison is tempering his expectations.
His championship-game roster all but disintegrated, the Lakehead Thunderwolves coach is building a new style of basketball team, this one from the top down.
On Thursday the 11-year veteran unveiled the second seven-footer of his busy recruitment season, 7-foot-1 transfer Andrew McCarthy, who spent two years at the University of Massachusetts and more recently, on season at Massassoit Community College.
Earlier in the summer seven-foot Australian Brent Wallace agreed to join the retooling Thunderwolves.
The Wolves, who lost to Carleton last spring in the national final, also added a pair of Canadian transfers, 6-foot-7 Srdjan Pejicic of Waterloo, Ont. and 6-foot-7 forward Justin Bell of Mississauga.
The trio of players will help fill the void left by six graduations, the unexpected departure of long-distance shooter Joseph Hart to pro ball in Spain and the decision to sit all-star guard Ryan Thomson for the entire season to nurse his surgically repaired knee.
The new makeup of his roster means Morrison and his staff will have to revisit the run-and-gun style that took them to four straight CIS Final championship weekends.
“For one thing, we’re going to have to learn how to coach guys that big and use them in our system,” Morrison said. “Our system has been built around having small guys that are quick. These big guys can run the floor not too bad, so it shouldn’t hurt us too bad, but we’ll have to learn to use their size whereas before we were using quickness.
“It will be a learning process for us. But at the same token, they have to learn to play at this level up here, where there aren’t as many big guys to bang around and maybe they’ve got to step out in the perimeter every now and then and move their feet a little bit.”
Realistically, with so much new talent arriving in Thunder Bay, the team will have plenty of work ahead to maintain the level fans have come to expect at the Thunderdome.
The emphasis this year is on player development and gaining experience at the CIS level, though Morrison isn’t ruling out any February magic, despite all the losses.
“We’re going to do everything we can to win this year, but I think the expectations are a little bit lower,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back to competing for the top spot as soon as possible, maybe even by the end of the year.”
In addition to Hart and Thomson, the Wolves will be without what amounts to a wall-of-fame worthy crew of graduates, a group that includes all-time leading rebounder Yoosrie Salhia, two-time CIS defensive player of the year Greg Carter, super-sub Joseph Jones, long-distance threat Ben Johnson, local standout Matthew Schmidt and oft-injured forward Brendan King.
In fact, only four players return from last season – guards Nathan Wainwright and Dwayne Harvey and forwards Joey Nitychoruk and Anthony McIntosh.
While he has hope, Morrison, as usual, isn’t booking his flight to Ottawa for nationals just yet.
“I think it would probably be an insult to the graduating guys to say our best case is to win the whole thing, because we had a pretty strong team last year and fell just short,” Morrison said.
“But, with Carleton hosting nationals again there’s an extra spot open for Ontario and our goal has got to be at least in the conversation come playoffs to win a couple of games and get there.”
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