SARNIA, Ontario — What a difference a year makes.
For the Lambton College Lions, the 2017-18 season was a complete turnaround from the season prior. Their win total increased by 10, and they made a return to the OCAA playoffs after a brief one-year hiatus in 2016-17.
In 2016-17, the Lions won just three OCAA games, finishing the year with a record of 3-13. As a result, they missed the playoffs. All three of their wins came in the first three games after the Christmas break. After their winning streak to open the 2017 calendar year, they closed the year on a six-game losing streak.
Moving ahead to the 2017-18 season, and what a turnaround it was for James Grant’s team. They won 13 conference games over the course of the year, finishing with a record of 13-7 in OCAA play. The Lions returned to the OCAA playoffs, advancing to the Consolation Final before falling to the Niagara College Knights to end their season, 89-83.
The Lions didn’t pick up their third win of the 2016-17 campaign until the middle of January. Last season, they got their third win on November 9th, and they had six wins before the Christmas break.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Grant and the Lions are hoping to continue the momentum from last season and turn it into a longer post-season run. With a fresh facility and a great new look for the school by way of their brand, the motivation is there to fuel a lengthy run come February and March.
During the off-season, Grant and the rest of the coaching staff wanted to add more shooting and length across the roster to help with last year’s deficiencies. They did just that, adding nine players from the Greater Toronto Area and Metro Detroit Area. Add them to a younger roster that won’t have a fifth-year player on it this season, and there’s a positive buzz surrounding the program heading into the new year.
However, the Lions will be tasked with replacing two of their star guards who graduated after last season. The pair of Jason Marshell and Branden Padgett led the team in scoring a season ago, and their departures will be tough to replace. They leave big shoes to fill on the roster, but it also gives other players an opportunity to step up and take on a leading role with the club.
Padgett was the team’s top scorer last season, averaging 23.6 points in over 36 minutes of action per game across the Lions’ 20 OCAA contests. The 5’11” guard from Detroit added 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, and he shot 44.8% from the field against league opponents. The one knock on Padgett’s stat line last season was his three point shooting, as he finished the year shooting a shade over 27% from beyond the arc (27.1%).
For his career, Padgett averaged 22.2 points per contest over 72 OCAA games, and just 17 of them were starts. He started 12 games as a senior last season, and five the season prior. Padgett averaged at least 20.2 points per game in each season at Lambton College.
Back in August, Padgett signed his first professional contract, as he will join BC Urartu of the Armenian Championship League.
Despite the departures of Padgett and Marshell, the Lions still have the bulk of their roster back in the mix to compliment the influx of youth that will be making their collegiate debuts.
Leading the way will be fourth-year forward Jason Watts, who will also be the veteran on the team as the Lions do not have a fifth-year player listed on this year’s roster. In 20 conference games last season, Watts finished second on the team in scoring with an average of 17.2 points per contest. He was highly effective from the free throw line, hitting on 92.2% of his attempts from the line.
Watts narrowly missed averaging a double-double last season, finishing with an average of 9.4 rebounds per contest. The native of Detroit recorded double-digit rebounds on 10 occasions throughout conference play. As the team’s top returning scorer from last season, Watts will be the focal point of the offense in 2018-19.
After his All-OCAA Rookie Team selection last season, forard Keith Laryea is back in the mix for the Lions in 2018-19. Laryea posted 8.8 points per game last season, good for the fifth-highest mark on the team.
As a team last year, the Lions averaged 90.0 points per contest, and the pair of Padgett and Marshell accounted for 35 of those 90 points. The bulk of the production is back from last year’s roster, which is good news for the Lions, who are looking to build off of last year’s OCAA Tournament qualifying performance.
Their success this season will hinge on how quick the younger players can get accustomed to the collegiate game. Somebody will need to step up and help alleviate some of the pressure left from the departures. The return of Watts is big news for the Lions as the season moves along, but a secondary option will need to emerge sooner rather than later.
With their youth, the core group will be together past this season, which bodes well for the future success of the program in the years following the 2018-19 campaign. The talent is there for the Lions to compete for an OCAA title, but their experience will be tested early and often as the nine newcomers get acclimated to the ins and outs of college basketball.
– T. Bennett