Mohawk wins national basketball championship
There is a fine line between confidence and cocky and Mohawk was forced to walk it entering the 2012 Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association (CCAA) Men’s Basketball National Championships.
Riding high off their win of the Ontario Colleges’ Athletic Association (OCAA) gold medal (March 3), the Mountaineers descended into Halifax en route to the host school, Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, Nova Scotia.
“We were pretty excited about, I mean, even winning OCAA’s,” said Mohawk’s power forward, Andrew Cicuttini. “Obviously, we couldn’t have been happier about beating off Humber twice in a row.”
“None of us saw us losing anymore games.”
Mohawk had to curb their emotions after winning OCAA gold two weeks prior to face the number two-ranked college basketball team in the country (March 17), the Mount Royal University Cougars of Calgary, for national gold.
Wanting to keep the mood light in the locker room before the game, Mohawk’s head coach Brian Jonker’s message to his team was to keep doing what they have been doing all season that has brought them success and to have fun. Jonker said there were many unknowns entering his first national championships as a coach, but never had any doubts that his team would come out on top.
“I never thought about what the speech might be if we didn’t win,” he said. “I only believed we were going to win.”
While playing one of their best games of the season, Mohawk completed a first in Mohawk College’s history with an 88-73 win over the Cougars: a national gold medal in men’s basketball.
Jonker called the win “surreal” and “fantastic” while crediting his team’s hard work for the win.
“It feels great,” said player of the championship game, Aminu Bello. “That’s what we’ve been training all year for, to get to this point. We stuck with a goal from day one until now, and look; we’re here celebrating – it’s crazy.”
Bello was Mohawk’s leading scorer throughout the season and had no intention of leaving Nova Scotia without a gold medal around his neck. The usual offensive juggernaut had a tough time finding his scoring touch in his first two games of the tournament, but undoubtedly saved his best performance for last with a 32-point outburst in the finals.
Mohawk was facing their largest deficit of the tournament in the first quarter of the championship match until two three-pointers by Bello, sandwiched around a Tanner Lane three-point field goal, brought the Mountaineers back.
“I end my career with a bang,” said Bello. “It’s my fifth year, my last game of my career and I’m a national champion. It feels good.”
Mohawk was ranked fourth among the eight teams participating in the tournament and was able to take down the fifth, first and second-ranked teams in their championship run. Looking at the tournament as a whole, it would be tough to argue Mohawk didn’t possess the best all-around pieces to compete for such a coveted title.
“We’ve got so many different weapons,” said Jonker. “We’ve got an offensive big guy (Cicuttini), a defensive big guy (Taylor Dowhaniuk), a great point-guard (Manny Campbell), a scoring guard (Bello), Alex (Reis) kind of the glue in the middle, a couple of solid guys off the bench (Jeff Hunt and Lane) – you can’t win if you don’t have that.”
The Mountaineers certainly had a plethora of talent to spread around the floor and took advantage, utilizing all of their players’ strengths, while having three different players (Cicuttini, Campbell and Bello) named as players of the game in their three wins. The outstretched arms of Dowhaniuk protected the paint and allowed the perimeter defenders for Mohawk to pressure the outside shooters. While on offence, the penetration of Campbell and Bello and the excellent low-post game of Cicuttini allowed good looks for Lane, Reis and Hunt.
Cicuttini, who averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds in three games, looked like a man among boys in the post scoring at will en route to being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Words can’t describe how happy I am right now,” he said about being named MVP. “I was hoping I would get it and I got it and it’s something to take back home and tell all my friends and family, you know, a lot of people are proud of me – it’s awesome. Obviously, I couldn’t have done it without any of my other teammates. This group of guys couldn’t have been more special. We all clicked into one unit and worked perfectly together all year.”
Now Mohawk finds themselves atop a long list of basketball champions. Not only did the Mountaineers defeat last year’s OCAA champions, the Humber Hawks, to capture the Ontario crown, but defeated the last three consecutive national champions – the Vanier Cheetahs of Montreal in their opening game (101-96), the top-seeded University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves (78-71) in the semi-finals, and finally the Cougars.
Other members of the team include Matthew Cupido, Abdullahi Abdi, Shakele Henry-Osborne, Mike Dzikic, Brae Diaby and Josh Sanderson.
There will be a welcome home party in The Arnie at Mohawk’s Fennell campus on Wednesday, March 21 to celebrate the victory. The doors open at 5:45 p. m.
GOLD Mohawk Mountaineers (Hamilton, Ont)
SILVER Mount Royal Cougars (Calgary, Alta.)
BRONZE St Thomas Tommies (Fredericton, N.B.)
4 Red Deer Kings (Red Deer, Alta.)
5/6 Indiens d’Ahuntsic (Montreal, Que.)
5/6 UNBC Timberwolves (Prince George, B.C.)
7 Vanier Cheetahs (Montreal, Que)
8 MSVU Mystics (Halifax, N.S.)
Andrew Cicuttini, Mohawk Mountaineers
First Team All-Star
Manny Campbell, Mohawk Mountaineers
Steve Trinidad, Mount Royal Cougars
Rob Pierce, Red Deer Kings
Nathan Mazurkiewicz, St Thomas Tommies
Nick Loewen, Mount Royal Cougars
Second Team All-Star
Taylor Dawhaniuk,. Mohawk Mountaineers
Richard Wilkins, St Thomas Tommies
Jonathan-Dave Tshibuy, Indiens d’Ahuntsic
Jhony Veronne, Vanier Cheetahs
Sam Raphael, UNCB Timberwolves
Fair Play Award
Red Deer Kings