The Halifax Rainmen did some housecleaning in the off-season and are ready to leave the drama behind.
The Rainmen, who endured a controversy-filled first season in the Premier Basketball League, have since sent nine players packing and are eager to unveil their new roster in their home-opener on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Metro Centre.
Lowlights of 2009 included the suspension of star forward Eric Crookshank, the mid-season firing of head coach Rick Lewis, and disgruntled former NCAA star SirValiant Brown publicly slamming management after his release. It all added up to a 12-8 record and a non-playoff finish.
“Last year there were a lot of negative attitudes,” said Crookshank, the only Rainmen player who has been around since the franchise launched in 2007. “This year, everybody’s positive. We’re patting each other on the back. ‘Tony, keep shooting the ball. Des, keep shooting the ball.’ That kind of thing.”
Crookshank, guard Tony Bennett and veteran forward John Strickland are the only returning players from last season, while 11 newcomers grace the revamped roster.
Bennett, a lightning-quick guard, is the team’s offensive engine, while Crookshank will again be a key scorer and rebounder. Point guard Gary Ervin, sharpshooting small forward Desmond Ferguson and six-foot-10 post Gordon Malone are key signings brought in to complement them, as are this week’s new additions Gregory Plummer and Cory Underwood.
But it’s a commitment to defence — enforced by head coach Les Berry, who went 6-3 after taking over last season — that Crookshank said will help Halifax contend.
“My first year here under Rick Lewis, no offence to him, defence just wasn’t a priority,” Crookshank said. “With Les, if you’re not playing defence, you’re not gonna play.”
The 31-year-old Crookshank said he now takes “pride in playing defence — and I’m getting more dunks, too.”
Owner Andre Levingston worked hard in the off-season to assemble a more well-balanced roster than last year’s, which was overloaded with score-first types.
“He’s done a great job of putting guys together who can do various jobs on the court,” the 32-year-old Ferguson said. “Now we’ve just got to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
• Sunday, Jan. 10, 2 p.m. Quebec at Halifax
• Saturday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. Vermont at Halifax
• Friday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m. Oklahoma at Halifax
• Sunday, Jan. 31, 2 p.m. Rochester at Halifax
• Sunday, Feb. 7, 2 p.m. Buffalo at Halifax
• Sunday, Feb. 14, 4 p.m. Manchester at Halifax
• Saturday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. Maryland at Halifax
• Friday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. Puerto Rico at Halifax
• Sunday, March 21, 2 p.m. Quebec at Halifax
• Saturday, March 27, 7 p.m. Oklahoma at Halifax