By Woodard, Dale on April 6, 2020.
No one has to tell Jermaine Small he’s coming to a basketball hotbed.
Last month, the product of Toronto was named the new head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball team.
Though the new bench boss who currently resides in Edmonton has yet to make his way down to his new southern Alberta address, Small is aware this stop is taking him right into the heart of hoops country.
“Within the community of Lethbridge I’ve learned very quickly and received a lot of calls and emails and support,” said Small, who spent the last season as the head coach and general manager of the Edmonton Sting of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. “It’s kind of like a Hoosiers. They love their basketball. There has been a lot of support and I’m looking really forward to getting started and building on what has been created already.”
Small takes over for interim head coach James McKinnon, who led the Pronghorns to a 10-10 record.
“I’m very excited and I’m grateful because I know there is such a rich history,” said Small. “I’ve said to people that I am inheriting a team where the cupboard is not bare. There are lots of good players coming back. We have a lot of experienced staff coming back. I’m just looking to add to that.”
He’ll do that with a solid base that includes Colton Gibb, Chad Oviatt and Jeffrey Rodehutskors.
“They bring back very solid guys and they are experienced,” said Small. “I look at a guy like Colton. He is very versatile and when I spoke to him he sounds like everything you want in a leader by example, for sure. Chad is athletic and long and I thought he had a very good season. With him, there’s just so much more upside.”
“I was at their last game against the U of A and I watched big Jeffrey, he was really good. So I’m excited to really work with him in continuing to build his confidence. He has the chance to be a dominant inside scorer. Brett Warren will bring experience. I’m really looking forward to working with the guys and adding to surround them with a good group of young players.”
After going 10-10 last season, including an impressive 7-3 run in the second half to get to .500, the Horns defeated the Regina Cougars in the Canada West play-in game at the 1st Choice Savings Centre, but lost 92-81 to the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West quarter-finals in Edmonton at the end of February.
“They had a really good season last year, obviously the hump against the U of As is still in the picture, but they’re still confident,” said Small. “A lot of what we spoke about was adding to what they have because they have no problem scoring, but it’s just identifying where we can get better and how do we do it. From all accounts, they are excited to play for me and I think that’s where it starts. First and foremost, they are excited to play for me and I am excited to coach them.”
Small runs a game revolving around defence and rebounding and the ball control that comes off playing those two facets successfully.
“If you do those two things well you control possessions and you get more possessions,” he said. “I told the guys that a lot of times I feel when I’m watching their games they kind of play uptight and not loose enough for having enough fun. I said to them that we’ll still score we’ll still get up and down, but we are going to rebound better and have fun doing it and get a little bit deeper on the bench.”
Of course, throwing a wrench into every sport is the current COVID-19 pandemic which has brought all activity to a grinding halt, at home and world-wide.
“If everything gets back to normal I will definitely be there in the summer,” said Small.
He’s hardly idle, however, and in full recruiting mode via social media on networking with fellow coaches.
“There is lots of local talent in Calgary as well and in the province,” said Small. “I’m just evaluating all of that right now trying to hit the ground running.”
In the meantime, Small has been in contact with the players already on the roster he’s taking over.
“Definitely calls and texts very frequently,” he said. “A lot of guys have asked me how I thought they could get better, so I talked about things they could do around the house as long as they have a basketball or a tennis ball or a skipping rope. The one thing I’m excited about this group is they seem very dedicated and that just makes me more excited. I’ve been watching a lot of film on them and trying to see areas where they can get better in areas they already do well. So it’s just trying to put it all together as much as we can.”
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