Leading up to game one of the Magic's first round playoff series with the Saint John Riptide this Sunday at 1 PM Atlantic, and into the first round, we'll be highlighting a couple of players a day and discussing their contribution to the team's inaugural season. Thanks to Coach Salerno for his help as always. In the leadup to this weekend's games, also keep an eye out for a playoff preview for the whole league and discussions with both Coach Salerno and Riptide coach Nelson Terroba. Enjoy everyone!
Earlier this season, I had a chance to grab Kevin Farrell-Thomas for one of our pregame interviews for Magic TV. It was during a run of a lot of consecutive home games and we were trying to get some different guys some face time for the fans. It was the Ant Man, Anthony Cox, who overheard us and suggested Farrell-Thomas. "My man would be a great interview," I remember him saying with that trademark smile. Now, you never know with the Ant Man. He might be setting you up for a laugh. Not so in this case. Kevin was eager, generous, thoughtful, humble and appreciative, and one of the best pregame chats we had all year. He was effusive in his praise for his teammates and how much they'd helped him during this, his rookie season. In mingling with the players and chatting them up about Farrell-Thomas afterwards, the feeling was definitely mutual.
As a young guy on a veteran team, you're not always going to get to make your mark on the floor with big minutes. You have to be a guy your teammates count on to make them better in practice while you're preparing yourself to be ready when called upon. Judging by the words of his teammates that night and coach Joe Salerno, the 6'8", 270-pound native of Toronto has been just that. "Kevin has showed a lot of improvement over his rookie season," says Salerno. "He has been a great addition to our ball club, doing so many things that wouldn't show up in a box score. His consistently positive demeanor, and work ethic in practice has been extremely impressive all season long. This is not an easy task, to show up to work everyday and put the effort forward as hard as Kevin does, knowing in the back of your mind you may not see many minutes in the next game. He fills his role as well as anyone does on the team, and we were very fortunate to have him. I truly hope we will see Kevin back in a Magic uniform next season, in what I could imagine would be a much greater role."
The polar opposite of the wide-eyed rookie trying to carve out a pro career would be the league's all-time leading scorer and inaugural member of the NBL 1000-point, 1000-assist, 1000-rebound club. Lynn, Massachusetts native Anthony Anderson decided to take the next step in his long and distinguished career onto the Moncton Coliseum floor for the 2017-2018 season, and while there have been challenges along the way, he's back in position to capture the only thing missing from his resume, NBL Canada Champion. "I think this season has just added another chapter to the remarkable NBL Career that AA has had," says Salerno. "He has showed he can adapt to any situation, and fulfill any role that is requested of him. Moving him to the point about a quarter of the way through the season was a really big move for us. It allowed us to make some of our player rotation changes that we felt were needed to play more consistent basketball."
That roster shake-up sent Al Stewart into a super-sub role off the bench, made Corey Allmond a starter and kickstarted an offense that was struggling to keep up with their dominant defense. Anderson's scoring has dipped considerably, but to a man, his teammates have praised his competitiveness, leadership and playmaking and the numbers tell the story. He leads the team in assists at 5.3 per game and the entire league in assist/turnover ratio at 3.3. For Salerno, it wasn't a change he took lightly, but it was one he was confident Anderson would handle with aplomb. "He took on that role knowing, as a true scorer at heart, it was probably going to mean less shots, and more distribution, but it's something he's flourished at. He is still the greatest scorer ever to lace them up in the 7 year history of this league, so he still draws a lot of attention from opposing teams. His ability to get into the lane, and create open shots for others has been huge for us this season. He took this role change in stride, and has been nothing but professional about it."
Anderson's defense has been the revelation as an observer of his game up close and personal for the first time. He's super-competitive, fights on every possession, keeps his man in front of him and sticks his nose in on the boards. It's going to be exciting to watch this team full of veterans take their efforts to another level for playoff time, and no one is more hungry to bring a championship to the city than the man everyone calls "AA". Says coach Salerno, "He truly is willing to do anything to win, and compete for that elusive NBL Championship. He has done everything I have asked of him this season, and in my opinion passed every test with flying colours." He's got one test left to pass Magic fans and it gets started this Sunday at 1 pm and Monday night at 7 from the Coliseum. Get your tickets or tune in to myself and Scott Squires on the call from monctonmagic.ca.