May 21st, 2024

Small making his debut on the Pronghorns bench

By Dale Woodard on October 28, 2021.

Last year, Jermaine Small was named the new head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball team.

Then a pandemic hit.

That, of course, was of no fault to Small, who was announced as the 13th head coach in the Pronghorn program’s 51-year history on March 18, 2020.

Still the COVID-19 pandemic nonetheless wiped out the entire 2020 Canada West season, thereby putting a lengthy delay on Small getting to make his Pronghorns coaching debut.

That changes Friday night when the Horns welcome the Calgary Dinos to the 1st Choice Savings Centre for the teams’ Canada West season opener at 8 p.m., followed by the rematch Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Get in there, coach.

“It means the world and it’s been obviously long-awaited, but I just really feel good for our guys,” said Small. “The patience and everything we’ve all been through and to finally be here in one spot and actually have a game planned, a lot of credit goes to U SPORTS and our administration and our department for putting this all together. I’m really happy and I’ll enjoy the moment.

The coach figures his players will do the same come tip off Friday night.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of days and I don’t really know what to expect,” said Small. “I know they’re going to get hyped up for the game. I’m expecting a bit of nerves, they haven’t played in front of fans in how long? So at the end of the day they’re going to be jacked up and want to have fun and live in the moment as much as possible.”

After a year away, fourth-year forward and 2019-20 leading scorer Chad Oviatt returns to help lead a young Horns squad this year.

“It’s a lot of excitement and pressure and a lot of fire burning in our hearts,” said the six-foot-six product of Edmonton. “We just want to get playing again. We’ve been taking every game in preseason as an opportunity to get better and it’s just exciting to get back on the floor.”

Still, it was tough to be away for a year-and-a-half.

“It was hard,” said Oviatt. “We were trying to keep the mindset of maybe we will play. It eventually got the point where we weren’t going to play that year. But it was just about getting better and putting in the work and just trying to improve every day.”

That includes working alongside some new faces.

The Pronghorns have a mix of experience and youth led by York transfer and guard De’Andrae Pierre, who played for the Lions from 2018 to 2020.

Alec Hillman (Olds College), Moreau Darlington (Mount Royal Cougars) and Angelo Mbituyimana (Keyano College) also join the Horns.

“Overall we have a pretty new team,” said Oviatt. “We’re all going to be meshing together and trying to figure out how to play together. We have some athletic guys and some good additions. It should be exciting.”

Small noted a nice blend between the rookies and veterans alike.

“We have a lot of new guys, but the guys who are returning are very experienced and they have a good IQ. I think one thing we have is balance. We have speed, we have size and we have some shooting. It’s a nice blend of everything. We just have to put it together and hopefully gel during the season.”

That process starts Friday against the Pronghorns rivals from two hours up the road.

“We haven’t seen them this year and they have a new team as well,” said Oviatt. “So it’s going to be a good look to see where we stand throughout the Canada West.”

“They won a championship not too long ago and I know they’re going to be coming in here maybe not knowing what to expect because they haven’t seen us play much,” added Smalls. “But we’re going to expect their best shot. We know this year is kind of wide open in a sense where everyone is kind of new and figuring it out after two years of not playing. We’re expecting their best shot and we know we’re going to step up to have a chance to beat them.”

This weekend, Small will not only make his coaching debut, he’ll have a crowd behind him as well.

“I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “In the summer I had the opportunity to coach in front of some fans and just having that was out of this world. Having it finally here in Lethbridge is going to mean the world to me and I can’t wait.”

Saturday night, prior to the men’s game, Pronghorns Athletics will honour two former greats with a jersey retirement celebration for Shawna Molcak and Perry Mirkovich.

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