(WINDSOR, ON) – Their theme for the season is back to work and their 3-7 record is reflective of such. Approaching the quarter-point of the season, the Windsor Express are struggling mightily to regain their footing on the court in the National Basketball League of Canada.
With their most recent 88-86 loss to the KW Titans, the Express are now on a 4-game losing streak; the longest of the season.
Yet all is nowhere near lost.
Team president Dartis Willis describes the team as the most talented the Windsor franchise has ever had. Based upon the on-paper analytics, that is arguably true. While currently they sit in last place in the Central Division standings, they are number one overall in the NBL in shot blocking, number two overall in defensive rebounding, and number three in free throw percentage.
Most of what is purportedly needed is a rapid improvement in team chemistry. Especially after much change in player personnel over the past couple of years. A cohesive spark is needed to get their steam engine firing on all cylinders.
In that sense, it is not how a season begins, but how it ends.
Front and center in the Express makeover is 6 foot-11 inch returnee Nick Evans. The big man from Southern Illinois, in the Missouri Valley, has been all business this year, after being given his second opportunity to be an impact player for the Red and Black.
“I’ve just returned to the team after a season or two where my rebounding numbers fell off, but this year I’m trying to average 10 boards a game, as a well as a double, and eventually a championship ring,” said Evans. “Points come easy with the guards we have, it doesn’t take much talent; just being in the right position to get the ball and make the shot or dunk the ball.”
But for now the coach has me and the other 4s and 5s crashing the boards on offense and defense, to either score or gain another possession for our team. So if you ever see me just standing there in a game I’m not doing my job.
It’s all about the work ethic. In college I didn’t really have it, because I didn’t play ball until my senior year of high school. But honestly, since meeting my wife and having a child, it slowed my life down and elevated my on the court game.
It’s my 5th year in the league and, although I’ve played on championship teams in Windsor and for the PEI Island Storm, personally 0-5, so this year I want that ring.
Evans is currently ranked 11th overall as a player in the league; the highest among his team mates, while averaging 8.11 rebounds and 10.5 points per game. Good enough to be 6th in rebounding and 5oth in NBL scoring on the season thus far.
In keeping with their strategy of having a local coaching voice, the Express have moved from having the legendary presence of coach Gerry Brumpton in the coaching cadre to the relatively lesser known and experienced sideline services of Dave Walls.
A graduate student-athlete of the former John L Forster secondary, and an 18-year veteran teacher-coach at Catholic Central high school, Walls brings a fresh and unique set of ideas to the fold as another source of ignition for the team.
I asked Dave about his recruitment to the Express.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder since last year with my family and we even bought a season ticket for this year,” Walls said. “But as it turns out I started out the season sitting in a new seat in the front row, as an assistant coach, and loving every minute. Basically it comes down to relationships. Up to last year we got behind the team during the game and afterwards at the autograph table, but we recognized they were not necessarily a cohesive group of guys, but more of a group of players competing for a spot.”
So we invited the team and coaching staff over to just hang out at our house, to share some food, play some video games, and generally just get to know when another a little better away from the court.
Then right at the dinner table coach Bill Jones said he’d like to bring me on board next year. I didn’t know he meant right on the bench in a supportive role. But, you and I know growing up playing ball and dreaming of pulling on that professional jersey, and that’s what I am working in every day now, albeit as a member of the defensive coaching staff.
Following the team’s win over the expansion Kitchener-Waterloo Titans, on January 13, Willis spoke very frankly about the selection of Walls as a coach as well as the current vs future state of affairs with the team.
“It’s no secret that having recognizable coaching staff and playing staff from the local community is good from a fan engagement point of view,” Willis said. “So having had coach Brumpton here and now Dave Walls it’s very special and a big deal for us. We’ve always had Windsorites with us as positive. Even in the case of former Windsor Lancer, Alex Campbell, the fans were tougher on him then we were when he struggled out there. They are simply part of the fabric of what we are doing here.”
Reflecting on the under par win-loss record to date, with the prospect of the 4th Annual Clash at the Colosseum approaching Willis was hopeful.
“It is important that we at least try to get back to .500 on the season,” he said. “However, more importantly, we need to just get into our rhythm as a team. As a team owner that sits on the NBL Board, it’s also import for our league that both teams put on a good show at the Colosseum.”
As a veteran owner and leader in the league, relative to some of the expansion teams, it’s hard, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to put the league before your team. Even when it comes to officiating, I get on the refs as a Windsor Express owner, then have to clown around with them and praise the work that they do from a league stand point.
All things considered, the Windsor Express are poised to turn their season around, leading up to their pivotal match-up against the Kitchener-Waterloo Titans. The two sides tip-off at 8:00pm on February 8 at Caesars Windsor.
The game will be preceded by University of Windsor women’s and men’s varsity games against the Laurier Golden Hawks beginning at 4:00pm and than at 6:00pm, respectively. This unique partnership of between the amateur and professional levels will also be a gateway to the local celebration of basketball event which the Express will host at the WFCU Arena on February 25. It will be based on the history of Windsor basketball book recently written and released by coach Bob Turner.
See the Express in action at home January 25 against the Orangeville A’s. Ticket information for each of the Express games and special events is available at 519-800-3665 or by email.
You can also win tickets to see the Express simply by emailing the editor of The Square.