In true King’s fashion, the Red Deer College men’s basketball team is currently sitting on their usual throne of first place in the ACAC southern division.
Over the last three years, Coach Clay Pottinger has worked diligently to create what he calls a “winning culture” on his team.
Coming out of the 2014 season with a silver medal at the national championship, Pottinger has taken his team to the CCAA national championship each of the three consecutive years he has been coaching and hopes to make 2015 the fourth appearance for the Kings.
Prior to Pottinger’s arrival, the Kings hadn’t made a national appearance since 1998.
“It’s just the standards that we set for ourselves and the lofty goals that I set coming into my position at Red Deer College,” explains Pottinger. “I’m fortunate to be a coach at an institution that is super supportive in cultivating an atmosphere of a winning culture and after we initially set up that idea of a winning culture it was just a matter of getting a team in place who was fully behind the vision.”
After his first semester he cut six players who weren’t willing to support the culture he was cultivating.
“After cutting those guys, even though it was a bit of a chance because a few of them were starters and really great players, it was all about putting that culture first and luckily we were able to have some success and parlay that right into an appearance at the national championships,” said Pottinger on his first season.
“So it became evident after that semester that as a coach my job would be to protect our culture.”
Pottinger stated the Kings last two weeks were a battle for the boys as they took on both the Medicine Hat Rattlers and the SAIT Trojans winning three out of four of the games.
It was no surprise to Pottinger either when second year Kings guard, JP Leblanc, took ‘Player of the Game’ in three out of four of the games as well.
The 6’1’ second-year Bachelor of Education Honor Roll student, who played high school basketball for Sturgeon Composite, is having what Coach Clay calls a “breakout season” and is a great example of what it means to be a part of the level of excellence Pottinger has set for his team.
Leblanc started his first semester with the Kings as a red shirt player meaning he only practiced with the team and was activated in his second semester playing a limited number of minutes.
“Coming into this year there was a great opportunity there for him as one of four returning players and he has exceeded my expectations on every level,” said Pottinger. “One of the things I do when I’m recruiting is to let them know right away what the expectations were and what our culture is all about and JP decided that was for him, and he has given us 100 per cent from day one.
“We asked him to red shirt for us and work on getting better, he said, ‘No problem’. We asked him to step into the team for a minor role and continue to get better, he said, ‘Absolutely coach I will do that to the best of my ability’.
“This year we said to him you know there’s a great opportunity to compete against some of the others guys to get a starting spot – what does he do? Beats them all out and owns the starting spot.”
Leblanc, who grew up in a basketball-oriented family with three older sisters and an older brother all actively involved in the sport, said that his first season with the Kings was a “complete reality check.
“It was the biggest jump in my life – going into college everyone always talks about how big the skill level jump is from high school to college but playing basketball and doing school was a lot for me at first,” said Leblanc.
“Just being in this atmosphere and learning from guys like Matt Johnson and Brian Prenoslo – two of our captains on the team this year – was huge for me and has allowed me to play at a super high level this year.
“This year living with Matt and Brian and Jake [Cusumano] has allowed me to have the same commitment to our school as they have, and they have given me a huge confidence boost. Being around that atmosphere of excellence has made me just want to be better in every way and my grades and game have significantly improved and I give them huge credit for that,” he said.
“When you’re doing well in school it means you have less to worry about and more time to focus on your athleticism and just enjoy playing.”
If the Kings win their next games against Olds and Briercrest, they will go into playoffs maintaining their number one position.
Playoffs begin in Fort McMurray’s Keyano College on March 5th where the Kings hope to take home another ACAC championship and for the fourth consecutive year make an appearance at the national championships, held this year in Hamilton, On.