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ROBIN SHORT: Getting more minutes in Motown

University of Detroit-Mercy photo
Cole Long of St. John’s goes up for two points in a game against Western Michigan earlier this season at Calihan Hall on the University of Detroit-Mercy campus. Long is starting to see his playing time increase.
University of Detroit-Mercy photo Cole Long of St. John’s goes up for two points in a game against Western Michigan earlier this season at Calihan Hall on the University of Detroit-Mercy campus. Long is starting to see his playing time increase. - Submitted

6-8 Cole Long of St. John’s is seeing his playing time increase during sophomore season at the University of Detroit-Mercy

He knows it’s probably more coincidence than anything else, so he’s not prepared to go shouldering any credit, but Cole Long acknowledges that the fact the struggling University of Detroit-Mercy basketball team is 2-2 at a time when he’s been receiving good minutes on the floor bodes well.

Long is a 6-8 second-year forward on the Titans, from St. John’s. He’s the only Newfoundlander playing NCAA DI college hoops in the United States.

He came from the Canadian basketball factory otherwise known as the Athlete Institute in Ontario, which produced the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Thon Maker and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets.

 

 

Long isn’t quite in their class, but he’s easing in nicely into a Detroit-Mercy lineup that’s in rebuild mode under the Titans’ new second-year coach, Bacari Alexander.

A 20-year-old product of the former Booth Memorial high school in St. John’s, Long played little last season, and started the 2017-18 campaign mostly riding the pine with a handful of minutes here and there.

But that’s the way it goes in college sports. Freshmen rarely play, unless their name is Iverson or Wiggins. Year 2 usually leads to a few more minutes, and by Year 3, they’re starting. If things go according to plan, Year 4 ball players are the staple of a program.

Long logged 27 minutes against East Tennessee State six days before Christmas, and followed up with 14 minutes of playing time vs. Murray State on Dec. 22.

After Christmas, he was back on the bench. Lately, however, Alexander has been using Long more and more, 20 minutes against Northern Kentucky, 14 vs. Cleveland State, 18 against Youngstown State and 17 minutes of playing time against IUPUI (Indiana University—Purdue U Indianapolis).

During that time, Detroit-Mercy is 2-2. The Titans are 2-5 in Horizon conference play this season, and 6-14 overall.

“I think I can play with these guys,” Long said. “The days of coming in here and being in awe of some players, they’re over. There’s none of that anymore. It was there last year.”

Long hasn’t been exactly tearing up the court offensively, averaging 2.7 points per game. But he’s obviously getting the job done defensively. Why else would Alexander have him in there?

“I feel I’m bigger and stronger,” said Long, who figures he tips the scales at 210 pounds following a summer working out with Carl English. “That’s helped my game, no question. I think I’m a better defender because of that.”

The Titans played the Michigan Wolverines before Christmas in the brand new Little Caesars Arena, the nearby home to the Pistons and Red Wings in downtown Detroit.

Long hopes to be back at Little Caesars in early March. That’s when the Horizon League tournament is scheduled.

Nobody asked me, but …

Speaking of basketball, it’s safe to say the sport in Newfoundland has never enjoyed the popularity and attention that it’s revelling in now, compliments of the St. John’s Edge. The expansion Edge has the second-highest average attendance in the National Basketball League of Canada, behind the defending champion London Lightning. Is the Edge here to stay, and will the team continue to draw big numbers at Mile One? Who knows. I do know Memorial University has put a team on the court for years and years, and never has received the support that is currently being heaped on the pro team. So if I’m involved with the Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association, I’m riding this wave. I’m having an information table at Mile One with material on how to get involved in the sport, what the association offers, and a Q&A on the various minor programs, such as, for example, the Steve Nash program. Perhaps this has been done. If so, good job. I’d also be organizing some kind of basketball jamboree for the kids at Mile One before an Edge game. These chances to really, truly promote your sport only come along so often. For basketball, the time is now …

Here’s where we’re at with hockey at Mile One: a deal for an ECHL team in St. John’s is all but done, save for an agreement with Mile One Centre. We should learn more on that in the next week or two. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is still an option, though the possibilities are more and more remote by the day. A) the league is not expanding (its player availability pool is pretty much maxed out), and B) while there is discussion some franchises may be considering relocating, as of today there are no teams available. Then there are the diehards who won’t let senior hockey go. It’s done, folks. Over. There will always be some form of senior hockey for the locals who want a competitive game, but the days of the BlueCaps and Shamrocks and Gander Flyers and Stephenville Jets are over. Gone. The senior game is barely scraping by today. No one knows or cares about the new East Coast league, the Clarenville Caribous are on life support, and if they’re back in the Central West circuit next season, it will be a miracle, which in turn could spell the end of that operation. So enough ridiculous chatter about Mile One Centre and senior hockey …

I see Boston Bruins anthem singer Rene Rancourt is laying down his mike for good at the end of the 2017-18 season. Rancourt’s not bad, but when you talk about anthem singers, there’s no one quite like Roger Doucet, who belted out anthems at the Montreal Forum during the 1970s … One of the major fundraisers for The Rock rugby program is next Friday night at the Delta Hotel. Pat Parfrey’s annual rugby dinner raises money which contributes towards heavily subsidized travel for the players, free use of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre and the adjacent Riley’s Conditioning Room, professional coaching and the availability of a professional physiotherapist …

NBL Canada deputy commissioner Audley Stephenson took a bit of issue with my comments last week, pointing out the league has essentially said the refs here aren’t good enough to work the league’s games. “I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not the case, and any implication pointed in that direction is categorically incorrect,” Stephenson said. “Recognizing that there’s a limited pool of officials at our disposal to officiate games in St. John’s, NBL Canada began the process of bringing outside officials near the start of the season. We’ve since then put a schedule in place and have made appropriate travel arrangements which includes organizing flights. We also feel that it’s important to rotate officials from game to game where possible for the benefit of players, teams and officials. At no point has NBL Canada expressed dissatisfaction in the level of officiating or do we doubt the capabilities of the officials to perform the duties of the job. It is recognized that the officials there may not be familiar with the speed, size and athleticism of the players in our league but that in no way suggests that we doubt that they can’t do what needs to be done.” I guess the fact that this change was made a day after Carl English publicly castigated the local refs is one great, big coincidence ...

 

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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