By: Monty Mosher
The years fly by. So do the names.
Simon Marr. Devon Stedman. Ritchie Kanza Mata. Jarred Reid. Kashrell Lawrence.
All are part of the player Sven Stammberger is today.
It wasn't so long ago that Stammberger came out of Halifax Grammar School, joining a Dalhousie Tigers men's basketball team in flux.
His first team under head coach Rick Plato learned some hard lessons, watching close games turn into losses, some in improbable fashion.
All that changed in 2014 when the Tigers celebrated an AUS title. Then another. And another.
Now the six-foot-six Stammberger stands alone among those Dalhousie stalwarts. Lawrence, Reid and Kanza Mata moved off after last season, a year that saw the Tigers lose by a point to Ryerson in the national semifinals at Scotiabank Centre.
The captain of the Tigers, Stammberger, a 23-year-old MBA student, has done everything his team could want from him at the start of the 2017-18 season.
The Tigers have opened with four consecutive conference wins and Stammberger leads the AUS in scoring at 26.3 points per game. He's the No. 2 rebounder at 9.5 per game.
There was no mystery in any of this. The Tigers knew they were graduating four fifth-year seniors at the end of the 2017 season. This year's team would have a different look with Stammberger at the top of the roster.
The Tigers are chasing some history. Acadia is the only team in the conference to win four straight men's basketball banners. Those came from 1963-66.
"In the off-season, people were expecting more minutes and training that way," Stammberger said this week. The Tigers play at Acadia on Thursday in a big test.
Now it's Alex Carson, returning from an injury to deliver on his great promise as a shooter and scorer. He's averaging 18 points per game.
"Everyone is stepping up," said Stammberger. "We've had games where our bench has outscored our starters. So that always helps. It's just a team effort right now."
It looked like a year for the Tigers to step back and regroup, but Plato doesn't work that way. He reloads and hunts titles.
"Last year we were pretty fortunate to have that starting lineup, but the players coming off the bench were third-year guys who were dedicated enough to stay with the program," said Stammberger. "Now those guys are starting to see those minutes go up."
It's not like he was an unknown coming to Dalhousie. His mother, Anna, coaches the Tigers. Sister Tessa played for Dalhousie.
Plato holds his captain in high regard.
"If I could only patent him, bottle him – I'd be a rich man. He is an unbelievable young man. The sky is the limit for him."
A university career goes by so quickly. One day you are mentored and suddenly you are the mentor.
Stammberger said the culture evolved over his time in the program, but it was subtle.
"There was no instant change," he said. "It's was gradual. There was that one year we didn't make the playoffs and after that we kept improving. Ever since then everyone has gotten used to winning and we don't want to get rid of that feeling. We're doing everything we can to stay there."
A three-peat has a way of attracting some attention. Plus, Dal will likely have to win its way to Scotiabank Centre this March with Acadia already in as host team.
"It's tough with everyone gunning for you," Stammberger said. "But we expect to win the AUS again this year. Maybe in my first and second year we didn't expect that because we didn't have those three straight championships."
The Tigers lost to Ryerson in the bronze-medal game in 2015. Then there was the last-second loss to the Rams last year in a season where they defeated them in the pre-season.
Whatever feelings might have been left over from those events are fleeting. Every season is new and the Tigers know that.
It's been a different Dalhousie team in the early days. Plato teams generally win at the defensive end.
"We're scoring more than 90 points per game and we were never doing that before," said Stammberger. "We're more high-paced. We're a little more inexperienced on defence right now, but we're all learning.
"It's coming along a bit slower. Last September, when we started out, it was just like we were continuing from the previous March. This September, with all the new players, it's tough to get the defensive rotations in order. That's the part we're struggling with a little bit."
He concedes it's odd now to be that older guy. For four years, even though for much of it he was a starter, Stammberger had other players to guide him and to be the team leaders.
"So it is very different to be in that role, but I'm having a lot of fun. It's great to have the respect of all the guys on the team. I think I'm doing all right."