Basketball X-Men eying AUS championship repeat

Basketball X-Men eying AUS championship repeat

Vernon pleased with mix of experience, youth

By Corey LeBlanc

ANTIGONISH – The defending champions in Atlantic University Sport (AUS) men's basketball are primed to take their shot at capturing a second consecutive conference banner.

"We are ready to take on the challenge," STFX X-Men head coach Tyrell Vernon said.

After topping the regular season standings – with a 17-3 record – the White and Blue cruised to the program's first AUS banner since 2006 on the strength of convincing victories in the semi-final and final games in the 2023 conference championship tournament.

One weekend later, the X-Men rode that momentum to the USPORTS championship game versus the perennial powerhouse Carleton Ravens; one that they led late in regulation time before dropping a 109-104 overtime decision.

"You have to separate the two," Vernon offered of winning a USPORTS silver medal, despite experiencing such a heartbreaking loss.

He explained that last year's X-Men "earned something," while this season's team has yet to accomplish anything.

"We have to start again and earn everything," Vernon added, while cautioning that they cannot use the gold medal setback as a "crutch."

Noting that it is a "new year, with a "different roster," he offered that there has been no change in "what we accept and what we don't" with the White and Blue program.

With the strong mix of new and returning faces, Vernon said the focus in the pre-season – one that he anticipates will continue early in the regular campaign – has been on "developing continuity."

He added, when it comes to navigating the process, "It is going to be a good challenge for us."

When asked who will have to lead the way this season for the X-Men to be successful, Vernon offered, "I think that it is going to be more collective," while noting how players have been embracing their roles.

As part of that team effort, the former X-Men point guard agreed that 2023 second-team conference all-stars Dondre Reddick (Antigonish, NS) and Deon Ejim (Brampton, ON) will be key contributors.

Reddick led the White and Blue in scoring, with 16.2 points per game, while adding 5.9 rebounds in each contest. Ejim finished last season averaging 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

Gatluak James (Windsor, ON), who had 8.1 points and five rebounds per game in 2022-23, is also back in the fold.

The X-Men head coach said veteran point guard Antoine Vernon (Hamilton, ON) will have to continue "to make good reads," while lockdown guard Steven Levnaic (Stoney Creek, ON) will – once again – take on the "toughest assignment" on the defensive end of the floor.

To illustrate the focus on a by-committee approach, Vernon noted that – during a recent pre-season game versus the rival Saint Mary's Huskies – 12 of his players had seen action by halftime,.

"We expect him to make a big contribution," the STFX mentor said of newcomer Jeremiah Usiosefe – a 6'5", 210-pound forward from Hamilton – who will suit up for his first season in White and Blue.

The X-Men have bolstered their backcourt with a familiar face to AUS fans – Marcus Upshaw (Burlington, ON) – who started his varsity career at Acadia before moving to Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson). He is expected to share point guard duties with Vernon.

Vernon also have high expectations for "pure freshman" Koat Thomas (Waterloo, ON), who – at 6'6" – brings size and versatility to the guard position.

And, when it comes to newcomer Gloire Koua (Brazzaville, Congo), he noted the forward – who plays for his national team – continues "to learn the game."

As for what fans will see on the court, when the X-Men are playing well, Vernon said, "Compete every possession," noting that approach applies on both ends of the court.

He added, "Again, no matter that situation, it is about playing hard at all times."

As for the prospect of repeating as conference champions, Vernon said, "The talent is there, but it depends on how we come together. But, again, the talent is there – no doubt about it."

He added the importance of staying healthy, while having "a little bit of luck."

The X-Men will tip off the AUS regular season this weekend at home on Friday, Oct. 27 (8 p.m. ADT) and Saturday, Oct. 28 (4 p.m. ADT), when they host the UNB Reds on Coach K Court at the Saputo Centre.

"It always is," Vernon said, when asked if he expects another competitive conference campaign.

He added, "There are no easy ones – you have to take it game by game."

For more information on the STFX X-Men are their 2023-24 season unfolds, visit