Only home pre-season game is Friday night
Al Stewart is excited.
© Journal Pioneer File Photo
Al Stewart makes a free throw during a National Basketball League of Canada game at Eastlink Arena last season.
The veteran point guard was watching his Summerside Storm teammates warm up for their intra-squad game Tuesday night at UPEI, and his enthusiasm was obvious.
Stewart was nursing a black eye resulting from a whack in the head suffered Sunday in the team's exhibition victory over the Halifax Rainmen, and he would sit out the intra-squad match. But that didn't dampen his excitement.
Playing Friday, Al?
"Oh yeah. Not missing that. This is going to be a great year. We've got some shooters. I might lead the league in assists," he chuckled.
The Storm will play their only home exhibition game tomorrow night at Eastlink Arena against the Moncton Miracles, with all proceeds going to various Island charities. Fans will get their first look at the totally revamped Storm.
Just three members of last year's team are back. That's right. Three of 12. That will happen when your team misses the playoffs.
Coach Joe Salerno was scouring this continent, and a few others, over the off-season to upgrade the talent level
Stewart is the lynchpin of the offence, as well as one of the league's best perimeter defenders. Chris Cayole is a 6'8" swing man, who also returns for a second year. Summerside fans didn't get to watch Cayole much last year as he was hobbled by injuries for much of the campaign, but in testament to his quality, he was selected to the post-season league all-star game. He's one of the shooters Stewart is excited about.
P.E.I.'s own Doug McKinney is the third returnee. Salerno was effusive this week in his praise of the 6'9" post player.
"He doesn't even look like the same player," Salerno said of the noticeably slimmed down McKinney. "Last year, with all due respect, he looked like a 12th man (Note: which is what he was).
“This year, he looks like a smart veteran ball player. He's much quicker, he really understands the game and what needs to happen, and he's playing with confidence."
"I even went to him for the last five minutes of our game Sunday in Halifax when we were trying to nail down the win. We needed defence and rebounding, and he came through."
Last year, the Storm was a bunch that often hung with the opposition for at least three quarters, but then faded down the stretch.
"Just good enough to lose," one often heard.
More importantly, they were just good enough to provide the home fans with a great experience, and lots of chances to scream and yell and get excited, but only rarely were they rewarded with a victory.
"Clang, clang, clang," was too often the operative sound as the clock wound down last year as the Storm struggled to make shots when they needed to.
Chief among the recruits expected to change that is swingman Greg Plummer, an almost legendary pure shooter from Brooklyn, with a long basketball résumé. He dropped 30 at the Metro Centre against Halifax on Sunday.
"Put Cayole on one side and Plummer on the other, and I'll be doing just fine with assists," Stewart grinned. "We are going to be something to see."
Bob Gray is a freelance journalist with a long history of P.E.I. basketball reporting. He welcomes comments at email@example.com, and can be followed on Twitter @bgray5.