KNOX Raiders men are fitter and faster entering the South East Australian Basketball League season and new coach Matt Shanahan hopes those traits will make his side a contender for the title.
Shanahan is in his first season with the Raiders, replacing long-time coach Graham Longstaff. While the core of the Raiders remains intact, Shanahan has added two impressive signings in former Gold Coast Blaze development player Jimmy Todd and Victorian under-20 team captain Greg Page. Todd is a versatile big man who does his best work on defence and Page is a combo guard with good speed and judgment.
Raiders imports CJ Massingale and Lester Strong are back again, along with point guard Sean Carroll, John Philip and a slimmer Liam Carroll.
Veteran guard Mick Hill had clean-out surgery on his knee and will miss around four weeks, while emerging guard Justin Aver, who seriously injured his Achilles tendon last year, is making good strides in his recovery and may come back in the final months of the season.
Shanahan said he was happy with the progress his players had made in their conditioning this pre-season.
"I think the players are just little bit fitter at this stage of year as they have been accustomed to.
"The guys have done good job in getting their weight down, Lester has dropped about 12 kilograms, Liam Carroll is in shape, Sean Carroll is in shape and with that comes faster play.
"We are not going to be the biggest team around so we will need to fast and attack the rim."
Shanahan said the additions of Todd and Page added to steel to the Raiders rotations.
"Todd was a development player with Gold Coast Blaze when they were in the NBL," Shanahan said.
"He is good player and fits in, that is more important than anything because we have enough superstars, we need guys to fill in the gaps.
"Page is the captain of the Victorian under-20 team who won gold at the nationals earlier this year. He is a heady player with a strong body who plays above his age. We are lucky to have him."
The Raiders will have a difficult start to the season, beginning with a road trip to title-contender Bendigo Braves but Shanahan is confident his side can contend once again.
He has also been impressed with how well the side has taken to his coaching considering some of the older players are close to him in age.
"I'm a 36 year old coaching players like Mick Hill who is 34 but they have all been good and the respect is there," Shanahan said. "These guys know how to carry themselves and play like professionals.
"It's been a good start but we still have a long way to go."
■ Boronia-raised US college basketballer Venky Jois won a major award earlier this week.
The Eastern Washington University forward was named the freshman of the year for the Big Sky conference.
The award is given to the best first year player in the conference with Jois becoming the fifth Eagles player, including current NBA player Rodney Stuckey, to claim the honour.
Jois, a former Dandenong Rangers player, averaged 12 points per game and nine rebounds while also leading his in steals and blocks where both he (66 blocks) and teammate Martin Seiferth (68 blocks) passed the previous school record for blocks in a season.
KNOX RAIDERS FIXTURES
March 15 Bendigo v Knox, Bendigo Stadium, 8pm
March 17 Knox v Frankston, State Basketball Centre, 2pm
March 23 Knox v Kilsyth, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
April 5 Mt Gambier v Knox, Bern Bruning Stadium, 8pm
April 7 Knox v Albury-Wodonga, State Basketball Centre, 2pm
April 13 Knox v Dandenong, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
April 21 Knox v Sandringham, State Basketball Centre, 2pm
April 27 Knox v Nunawading, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
May 5 Knox v Canberra, State Basketball Centre, 2pm
May 10 Hobart v Knox, Aurora Stadium, 8pm
May 11 NW Tasmania v Knox, Ulverstone Schweppes Arena, 7.30pm
May 18 Ballarat v Knox, Minerdome, 8pm
May 19 Sandringham v Knox, Sandringham Basketball Stadium, 2.30pm
May 25 Geelong v Knox, Geelong Arena, 7.30pm
May 26 Knox v NW Tasmania, State Basketball Centre, 2pm
June 1 Knox v Brisbane, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
June 15 Albury Wodonga v Knox, Lauren Jackson Sports Centre, 8pm
June 22 Dandenong v Knox, Dandenong Staudium, 7.30pm
June 29 Knox v Hobart, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
July 4 Frankston v Knox, Frankston Basketball Centre, 8pm
July 6 Knox v Ballarat, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
July 12 Knox v Mt Gambier, State Basketball Centre, 7.30pm
July 13 Brisbane v Knox, Rowland Cowan Stadium, 7.30pm
July 20 Kilsyth v Knox, Kilsyth Sports Centre, 8.15pm
July 27 Knox v Bendigo, State Basketball Centre, 8pm
August 3 Nunawading v Knox, Nunawading Stadium,
August 10 Knox v Canberra, State Basketball Centre, 7.30pm
August 17 Knox v Geelong, State Basketball Centre, 8pm