by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
The two-time defending National Basketball League of Canada champions have narrowed down their roster to 13 players ahead of the team’s exhibition game on the road against the London Lightning this upcoming weekend.
Windsor Express vice president of basketball operations Bill Jones announced he cut four of the 17 players who were invited to the team’s training camp last week. The camp opened with orientation Dec. 9 and concluded with an exhibition game against the Lima Express of the Midwest Professional Basketball Association at the St. Clair SportsPlex Dec. 13.
Jones said the toughest part of his job is to cut players when they go out and compete for jobs only to be turned away.
“Those players went out there and played and I’m proud of them,” Jones said. “But when you’re trying to get a team together you have to let some guys go.”
NBL Canada veterans Chris Commons, Kirk Williams Jr., Adrian Moss, Raheem Singleton and Tony Bennett headline the roster, along with some new faces on the squad featuring Maurice Bolden, John Hawkins, Zach Valliere, Derek Thompson and Shane Ross.
Filling out two of the four Canadian roster spots are former Windsor Lancers Josh Collins and Jahmal McQueen, who were both rookies on Windsor’s championship run last season. Unfortunately for Windsor native Rotimi Osuntola Jr., the Express cut him after he failed to make the dress roster against Lima.
Rounding out the roster is former Mississauga Raptors 905 guard Shaquille Keith, who Windsor fans saw as a visiting player during the first ever NBL Canada and NBA D-League exhibition game at the WFCU Centre Nov. 9.
Coming into his fourth season with the team, the veteran forward Commons said he was excited to lead a group with so much young talent selected to the team.
“My sole purpose of this year is to provide leadership and pass on what I have learned,” Commons said. “But that part is going to be easy because I love this team already.”
In their lone chance to shine for the Express front office and coaching staff, Windsor’s training camp players showed the hometown fans what they were capable of contributing to a third consecutive league championship. The Express got out to sizable leads after the first and second quarters and paced themselves to a 108-82 victory over the Ohio-based team, who only dressed eight players but featured the game’s high scorer with Jody Hill’s 26-point effort.
Express fans saw a balanced scoring effort from the home team throughout the contest but it was the versatile Bolden who led the way for Windsor with 24 points. The highly touted rookie Keith showed fans glimpses of what kind of an impact he can be in his first season of professional basketball with 14 points and three defensive rebounds while shooting six for 10 from the floor.
Commons said Bolden and Keith are perfect fits to put into place of Windsor’s championship formula.
“The game Gods are only going to be good to players for so long but those two have the game Gods on their side right now,” Commons said. “I’m excited for them. Mo is a great addition and by being here we are going to let him do what he does best and Shaq is super talented and athletic. I have nothing but praise for them.”
Keith, 22, will no doubt provide the team with a highly skilled Canadian player after the departure of point guard Gary Gibson and small forward Kevin Loiselle in the off-season. Playing in the NBL Canada will give Keith a full 40 regular season games to develop and flourish in this league as he sports a very strong and balanced game coming out of Kilgore College in east Texas.
“Things didn’t work out the way I wanted to … but when you’re playing in the best league in the world you learn a lot,” Keith said. “Now I have an opportunity here with the Windsor Express. I came here to get better and develop my game more every day.”
The Brampton native said his time with the Raptors 905 raised his compete level and believes playing against the talented and tough players across the league will help him in his goals of getting to the NBA.
“As a professional, you have to know when to pick your spots,” Keith said. “I’m young and this is the best way to start off my career coming out of college and I’m here to fine tune a few things and maybe next year or the year after that I can go out and live my dreams.”
Windsor travels to London for their final tune-up at Budweiser Gardens Dec. 19. The Express begin their title defense one week later when the Orangeville A’s visit the WFCU Centre for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.