When it comes to recruiting, college basketball coaches have a variety of information on any individual prospect, be it video highlights, stat sheets, academic transcripts or any combination of materials.
NMU head men’s coach Dean Ellis has all that recruiting info, but he also has a slightly unique item that has proved its worth to the Wildcat program – a 2003 CEGEP basketball media guide.
CEGEP is a French acronym for Quebec’s pre-university schooling, which according to the CEGEP Web site is translated to English as “College of General and Vocational Education.”
And again this year, the CEGEP basketball league has been tapped by the Wildcats. All told, NMU will have rostered 10 players from the league since 2001, including the most recent additions of two Division I-transfers, in junior forward Mark D’Agostino (Delaware State) and junior guard Marc Renelique (Chicago State), as well as freshman guard Alex Sabino-Ifill.
“I think we’ve recruited, in many ways, as well as we ever have for this season,” Ellis said about the incoming players. “We’ve covered every position – from point guard to center.”
According to Ellis, the incoming players – which numbers six in total, including freshman center Mark Olejniczak from Green Bay, Wisc., junior guard Austin Rowe from Linden, Mich., and Jordan Mitchell from Marquette – address the team’s main concerns after finishing 7-20 last season.
“We recruited size, shooters, point guards, speed – and depth more than anything,” Ellis said. “It looks great on paper – and that’s just talking about the six new guys we brought in.”
Throw in the four redshirt freshmen who practiced with the team for a full year last season, and that’s a total of 10 new players.
Ellis said this year’s team will be deceptively seasoned with the redshirts and the Canadian players who competed for years in CEGEP.
“We’ve got – in a lot of ways – a new team with a lot of experience,” he said.
All three incoming Canadian players are over the age of 20 (Sabino-Ifill comes to NMU as a 22-year-old freshman), and all played post-high school in the CEGEP league. Ellis said Northern has recruited heavily from the league because incoming freshman are more-seasoned players, having played against Division I caliber athletes for years before attending an American college.
“The reason why we recruit Montreal is because the kids that play CEGEP play in Montreal for as much as three years after high school, and then they come to the United States as freshman. So it’s a win-win situation for them,” he said. “And not only that, they transfer in college credits from CEGEP, so they start their college career with from 20 to 40 credits depending on which (credits) transfer over.”
Assistant coach Dan Waterman added that the Montreal players come to NMU with more life experience as well, and that translates to the basketball court.
“I know from personal experience that I was a heck of a lot more mature in my early 20s than I was as an 18-year-old college freshman – you’ve just seen more in life,” he said. “I think that helps them.”
For some of the Montreal players, coming to Northern isn’t just a change in country, it’s also a change in language from French to English, and Waterman said, by being a more mature individual at that point in life, the change becomes a bit easier.
“That’s a pretty significant change they’re going through – they’re in a different country, away from home, and some of them are going through school using their second language,” he said. “I just think that life experience helps to ease the transition. It’d be a lot to ask of an 18-year-old freshman.
“That translates over to basketball too,” Waterman added. “They don’t get rattled as easily, because they’ve been around and they’ve seen more things. So, I just think that there’s an edge in physical, mental, (and) emotional maturity.”
The New Three
The three incoming Canadian players – D’Agostino, Renelique and Sabino-Ifill – all come to NMU with high praise from the Wildcat coaching staff.
D’Agostino, listed at 6’7″ and 215 pounds, will play forward for the Wildcats this season, but both Waterman and Ellis agree he can do more than the average basketball forward. Ellis said D’Agostino was listed as one of the top players in the CEGEP league when he signed to play for Delaware State, and the basketball program is happy to have him at NMU.
“He’s very strong. He can score in the post, he’s very good from the three-point line,” Ellis said. “He’s an intense player who can rebound it, and he’s got a huge upside for us because he can score from anywhere on the court.”
D’Agostino choice to leave Delaware State came when the basketball team there went through a coaching change, according to Ellis.
“He was looking to transfer and he obviously knew that we had some (Canadian) players here, so the initial contact about Mark came from him to us,” Ellis said.
Waterman said he felt D’Agostino would be able to handle the physical nature of GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) defenders.
“He’s going to need to be strong, because it’s pretty physical in our league inside,” Waterman said. “I think he’s well-equipped to handle the rigors of interior play in the GLIAC.”
According to his head coach, Renelique (6’2″ and 198 pounds), who had been recruited by Northern two years ago, is expected to be one of the best shooters in the team’s history.
“He can shoot from anywhere,” Ellis said. “He can score off the dribble, he has deep three-point range – really understands the game of basketball. He’ll defend hard and play hard. He’s got a chance to have a great two years here.”
Ellis added that, like D’Agostino, Renelique left his former college after there was a coaching change.
The youngest of the three Canadians, Sabino-Ifill (6’5″ and 190 pounds), brings superior athleticism and experience to the NMU basketball team, Ellis said.
“He runs the floor extremely well, and he’s got deep three-point range also,” Ellis said. “And he’s a very mature freshman.”
Waterman added that Sabino-Ifill, is a long-armed defender.
“His athleticism – it just jumps out at you,” he said. “This kid’s long, he can get up and down the floor, he shoots the ball well. He’s pretty versatile, and there’s lots of things he can do on the floor.”
Coach Waterman said he was impressed with the three the minute they came to campus, when he watched them play a pickup game during their official visit.
“It was competitive and they went at each other and I can remember – (2007-2008 starting point guard) Jake Suardini came in and played with those guys, too – and (Suardini) came off the court and goes, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be.'”
Waterman added that it’s not going to be as simple as throwing the new players on the Berry Events Center hardwood and expecting success.
“It’s going to be a feeling out process on their part – they’re going to learn a new system,” he said. “And on our part, we’re going to see how all the pieces fit together.”
The New Recruiter
Aside from the CEGEP connection, all three incoming Canadian players have another common thread – a friendship with NMU junior guard Chris Warner. And whether it’s D’Agostino, Sabino-Ifill or Renelique, all will tell you that it was Warner who recruited them to NMU – even Northern’s head coach agrees.
“Mark (D’Agostino) and Marc (Renelique), they knew Chris was here – and everyone loves Chris, whether it be Montreal or Marquette, Michigan,” Ellis said. “Chris is about as mature and stable an individual as you can ask to have in your program. Everyone trusts him and he’s very genuine.
“He’s told these guys, I’m sure, that it’s a great situation here,” Ellis added.
Warner said NMU has a solid reputation in CEGEP, and he didn’t have to do much along the lines of convincing to get the incoming players to campus. In fact, he didn’t even have to call them, they called him instead.
“For those guys to contact me to come here, I think that speaks volumes for what coach is trying to do here at Northern,” Warner said. “I don’t think you’ll ever see that at any other school – not just Canadians at one school, but Canadians from one city.”
When Warner was looking at schools to go to, he talked to then NMU forward Ricky Volcy. Warner said that Volcy did the recruiting in his case.
“He gave it to me straight,” Warner said. “He said, ‘I know how people do recruiting. I’m going to tell you what we do here,’ basically, and just laid it out flat. ‘If you want to come, come,’ he said. ‘It’s a good situation. I think you’d fit in. Come visit and see it. If you decide to come, or if you decide to go elsewhere, you know you have my blessings.'”
Warner now recruits players in much the same was as Volcy recruited him.
“I just answered their questions as much as possible,” Warner said about talking with the incoming Canadians. “They knew I was going to give them a straight answer. I wasn’t going to B.S. them.
“At the same time that I want them here, I want them to flourish,” he added.
NMU’s head coach said Volcy, wherever he is, still helps to bring awareness about the Wildcat program.
“If you talk to Ricky Volcy now, he literally says, ‘I’m telling everybody to go to Northern, coach,'” Ellis said. “And there’s a lot of people (who’ve played basketball at Northern) like that.”
And now it’s Warner who’s taken the role of on-campus recruiter, Northern’s head coach said.
“He’s a big part of our recruiting process here. And it’ll continue,” Ellis said. “We’re obviously doing some more recruiting already for next season.”
With two incoming Division I transfers, it seems that Warner’s recruiting is effective. Take D’Agostino, for example. Warner and D’Agostino talked one night and D’Agostino told Warner of his situation. The next day, the wheels were already in motion.
“That morning after I spoke to Chris, Coach Ellis called me,” D’Agostino said. “He said, ‘We’d really be interested in you scheduling a visit.’
“Chris Warner recruited me,” D’Agostino added. “Coach Ellis, he didn’t even know at the time that I was transferring.”