Coming soon...The 2016 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Championships
His nickname when he played basketball was “Lunch Bucket.”
“I was a workhorse, who played hard and had the mentality of the 9-to-5 guy going to the steel mill with a lunch bucket in hand,” said Lunzaya Nlandu, head coach of the Keyano Huskies men’s basketball team.
“When I came on board here, it was to implement what I learned,” said Nlandu, a native of Montreal, Quebec who has an impressive player resume to say the least: wearing the jersey of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball teams Northeastern University Huskies (2001-2002) and Western Carolina University Catamounts (2003-2005) with one year of JUCO ball in between with the Santa Fe Community College Saints (2002-2003).
He would also wear the Maple Leaf of Canada as a member of Canada’s senior men’s national team from 2000-2002 and played semi-pro hoops as a member of the Edmonton Chill and Edmonton Energy of the International Basketball League.
In 2014 he moved to Fort McMurray as Senior Account Manager at Hilti and hooked up with the Huskies as an assistant coach.
He now is a head coach. His first time in such a position.
He has lofty goals.
“I want to build a basketball powerhouse at Keyano,” said Nlandu, 35. “The first thing is to focus on the player and make sure their basic needs are met...that they have a place to stay and they have food. You make sure they concentrate on their studies, instill in them that they are family and that they play together.
“At the end of the day it is not about their minutes or points. It is about the end result. What is the common goal? It is about giving your best. We want to win at home and to protect our court.”
Protecting their court, the Canadian National Resources Ltd. Gymnasium main floor at the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre, will come full focus March 16-19, 2016 when they host the 2016 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Championships.
Heading into the Christmas break, Nlandu has seen his Huskies team fast break to an impressive 11 wins 1 loss record in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC), which ranks them at No. 6 in CCAA polls.
The Huskies men’s cagers are not the first Keyano Huskies team to break onto the national spotlight during the 2015-2016 campaign, as the men’s soccer team finished at No. 2 and the men’s and women’s volleyball teams were ranked at No. 10 and No. 14 at the time of this writing.
“I am very proud of our coaches and the players that have been moving our program ahead and it is nice to see the national attention with the ranking results,” said Sport & Wellness Director Wade Kolmel.
“For me it is a big accomplishment to see our teams succeed as we are the most northern college and we have a unique geographical barrier at times,” said Kolmel, who has been with Keyano College Athletics for 15 years.
“We have made Keyano College a destination of choice and it reflects with the success of the coaches and student/athletes.
“The next step is that you now have to push the needle forward every weekend as you have a new game and new opponents. We push for further recognition and to keep moving up in the rankings.”
In their 31 years of post-secondary sport, the Huskies have yet to win a CCAA banner in team or individual competition.
Nlandu believes he has the team that can break the jinx.
“Coaching here the last two years (assistant coach 2014-2015) has been a joy as I am in my element,” said Nlandu. “At first as a head coach I was a bit overwhelmed but I knew that the main thing was to lead the team and bring that positive message to the team.
“We have the talent. We have a solid team with 10 to 13 guys that could start on the court. Everyone has their role and they have to bring me their best that they have in that role.”
One player who has flourished under Coach Nlandu, is fifth-year point guard Kevin Dia.
A graduate of Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School in 2007, Dia played for The King’s University Eagles in Edmonton leading the ACAC in steals with nearly 4.0 per game while averaging 11.9 points per game for the 2007-2008 season.
After a short stint with the NAIT Ooks, he would return to play for the Huskies 2011-2013 while starting at the point guard position, assisting the Huskies to a trip to the 2013 CCAA men’s championships in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec and hosted by John Abbott College. The Huskies would finish eighth in their debut.
Dia, 26, would leave the game for two years, working in the oil sands industry. When he heard that Nlandu was the new head coach of the Keyano Huskies, he decided to return to school to upgrade his power engineering.
“I had one more year left on my eligibility to play basketball and I was not too sure if I would ever use it,” said Dia, who moved to Canada from the Ivory Coast with his family at the age of five. “Once I heard that Coach Nlandu was coming, I decided to come to the ID camp. I had seen him coaching and I knew that he had the skill and knowledge to become one of the great coaches.
“I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Dia, who played his first organized basketball moving to Fort McMurray in Grade 9, credits Coach Nlandu for motivating him to where he is now, “in the best shape of my life.”
Dia continues: “This year I have ran the most, trained the most, and lifted weights the most and it is all due to Coach Nlandu’s training and mentorship. He had brought out the passion and heart and work ethic that I always had but was never pushed to improve on. He just wants to develop you to be the best player you can be.
“He has so much passion for the game. He has been there and done that. You can feel his passion and his belief in you and your potential when he talks.”
Of Dia, who leads the team in minutes per game at nearly 30 and is second in the 15-team ACAC in steals per game at 2.75, Nlandu says: “Kevin is a leader. I am comfortable putting him on the best player on the other team. He is our engine on defence.”
Key players joining Dia in the quest for ACAC and CCAA gold, include the following with comments from Coach Nlandu.
ACAC 2013-2014 Rookie of the Year Blake Gallatly a 6-foot-4 forward from Maffra, Victoria Australia. Gallatly’s importance are the intangibles that do not show up on the score sheet, his passion and hustle on the hardwood uplifts his teammates and causes several turnovers by the opposition.
“We are trying to get him to that same mentality when he was Rookie of the Year. He has the will to win and a lot of energy going strong to the rim.”
From Stockholm, Sweden. 6-foot-1 guard Rami Ghanem is a first-year student athlete (College Preparation) averaging 12 points per game.
“Rami has the potential to be ACAC Rookie of the Year as he brings a lot of speed to the team. He will put a lot of defences on their heels.”
Demaine “Triple D” Nelson, a 6-foot-7 centre from Ajax, Ontario, leads the Huskies in rebounds at 7.8 per game while averaging 10.6 points per game.
’Demaine is a beast and he can be the best post in league with his strength and ability to shoot. He is our Dikembe Mutombo.”
Brady MacKay an outside shooter, who in the second game of the regular season, October 17, 2015, hit a 55-foot shot at the buzzer on home court to beat the NAIT Ooks 68-67.
He leads the team in three-point shot attempts at the halfway mark with 56 in 12 games.
“Brady with his length is an X factor for us.”
Cory Richardson a second-year 6-foot-1 guard from Bunbury, Australia leads the Huskies in scoring at 16.3.
“Cory has some great shooting ability and can extend the floor. I feel comfortable with him running plays. His IQ is really high.”
Another piece of the puzzle is 6-foot-5 jumping jack Collin Whitely, who in 2012 was named MVP of the George Brown Huskies of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA).
He is instant offense as demonstrated In a 99-76 victory against the host University of Alberta Augustana Vikings on November 13 2015 , where in only 13 minutes of playing time, Whitely made 10 –for-13 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free throw line scoring 26 points while also pulling down 9 rebounds and adding 2 steals.
“Collin Whitely is our best athlete and most complete player.”
Teams competing at the 2016 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Championships March 16-19, 2016 will be the provincial winners and one wild card team from the ACAC, OCAA and Pacific Western Athletic Association with the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association and Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec champions rounding out the eight-team tournament.
Photos by Erwin Kuhr