“Alex, I’d like ‘Basketball’ for 600.”
“All right. Basketball for $600. And the answer is. . . ‘The Summerside Storm.’
“Ken, what is your question?”
“What is a juggernaut?”
At least currently. The Storm has run roughshod through the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada for the last month and a half.
Since the calendar turned to start December, the Storm is 8-3 (won-lost). They are currently riding a four-game winning streak, they lead the NBL of Canada’s Atlantic Division with a 13-9 record, everyone is healthy and they are in the midst of a 10-day stretch with no games.
So, with this 10-day break, are they just sitting around with their feet up, eating chips and watching NBA games?
Coach Joe Salerno swears they aren’t.
“We’ve been doing a lot of strength and conditioning work, regular individual work and we’re looking forward to getting back in the gym as a group this Friday,” Salerno said. “But make no mistake.
“This has been a welcome chance for a rest. We’ve been going really hard right since Oct. 4.”
Practices for the next few days for the Storm will be like a mid-season training camp, for a rededication to what has brought the Storm this far.
“When we play good defence, we’re really tough,” Salerno said. “But it’s been a real challenge to be consistent with that defence.
“We’re going to score. That’s what we’re looking for above everything else – defensive consistency.”
Defence starts right at the basket, and Salerno says Nick Evans, Brandon Hassell and Omari Johnson have been keys to the Storm being able to defend the pick-and-roll, and to have effective help on defence.
“And, of course, Antonio Ballard makes a difference every single night,” Salerno said. “He guards the other team’s best scorer every game, and I honestly believe that he is the best on-the-ball defender in the league.”
The 6’5” Ballard is in the midst of a stunningly effective rookie season, as he leads the league in rebounding – more than a full rebound per game better than the runner up – and averages almost 14 points a game. He and Hassell are one-two in the league’s offensive rebounding stats.
Add all that to his defensive game, and the realization of exactly what Ballard is accomplishing begins to sink in.
“You’d have to think that the league’s rookie-of-the-year award is his to lose right now,” Salerno said. “He’s exceeded every hope we’ve had for him for his first year, and he’s been consistent every single night.”
One of the hallmarks of the Storm’s hot streak has been one of the characteristics of any good team – contributions from everyone up and down the roster. Sunday, in Moncton, the Storm was struggling to score, and Brandon Robinson dominated the last few minutes on his way to a league record 42 points.
Friday, in Saint John, Chris Cayole rose to the occasion and hit six of seven three-pointers to lead the Storm to a huge win.
Hassell, Evans, Johnson and Doug McKinney have all had stellar moments defensively in the paint, and Al Stewart is a constant presence with the ball, even when the other team is supposed to have it. Avery Smith has provided at times spectacular point guard play as Stewart’s backup. And the list goes on and on.
“The Jeopardy answer for $1,000 is, ‘The remainder of the 2012-13 NBL Canada season.’”
“Alex, what is ‘Promising?’”
Bob Gray is a freelance journalist with a long history of P.E.I. basketball reporting. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be followed on Twitter @bgray5.