By Adam McDougall, St. Thomas University Journalism
Zack was a late addition to our team this year but instantly made his presence felt in how hard he is willing to work every day. Simply put, Zack has been an amazing teammate. He understands his role this year and is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win. While on the court he will not be outworked and while on the bench he will not be out cheered. He knows that this year is a building block to his senior year and a monumental commitment will need to be made this spring/summer to ensure he gets the most out of this program. This is Zack’s story!
My path to RNS started off in my hometown of Brockville, ON. There, not many people get a lot of athletic notice because it’s a smaller town. We have had one guy – one of my really good friends, actually – who played in Brockville and then went to the University of Calgary, but he’s one of the only guys out there that received notice coming out of Brockville. One of the biggest factors that contributed to me winding up at RNS is actually my aunt. My aunt is the rowing coach at RNS, and when I played at the Hoop Dome in Toronto for my U19 basketball team – playing three years up at the time – my aunt actually sent some of my videos from Toronto to Coach Gay, who is now my coach at RNS. After seeing my film, Coach Gay called me up and I went to RNS for a workout. From there, he asked me to play for the team, and it seemed like a natural fit for me. One of the other reasons I chose to attend RNS is the fact that I row as well as playing basketball. My aunt – being the rowing coach – will help guide me on becoming a part of the rowing team at RNS.
Another reason I chose to attend RNS is the academics it presents to all of its students. The schooling there really is at the pinnacle of education, especially considering all the IB programs RNS has to offer, and all the help that they give the basketball team. Because the team is away a lot, RNS offers a lot of help for anyone missing so much school. It’s great. My grades have been the best that they have ever been, and that is due in no small part to the fact that the teachers care a lot about my success. There are smaller classes, so it’s much more one-on-one than the public school I used to go to. There is a lot more help all around me at any given time.
I started playing basketball at a competitive level when I was about 10, but I’ve been playing less seriously since I was about six years old. When I was younger, I played a little bit of volleyball, and a little bit of golf, in addition to rowing. I started rowing when I was in Grade 9, and I’ve noticed that rowing has helped translate into me becoming a better basketball player. Rowing usually takes place in basketball’s offseason, and is a constant full-body workout. Rowing is really great because it keeps me in shape for the next basketball season, and, more than just keeping me in shape, it actually makes me stronger.
I really started to realize that I loved the game of basketball and wanted to pursue it more seriously when my friend from Brockville went to play at the University of Calgary. I realized that I wanted to be able to play my own game and do the same thing he did while playing at the next level. I started taking it very seriously from about Grade 10 on. He was a huge role model for me.
The plane ride from Ontario to New Brunswick came as quite the shock to me. I was coming from a place full of cities, roads, houses, highways, and a lack of trees to what, in my eyes was essentially a massive forest. I felt a massive difference right away, and I was pretty shocked by the landscape itself. The next shock came with simply getting to campus and seeing just how accessible everything was. Back home, I would have to walk three or four blocks, get in my car, and drive just to get to my school or to the nearest supermarket, but here, I’m walking to school, and everything I need is in walking distance. Everything is super close and convenient, which makes a bigger difference than I thought it would, to be honest.
Being away from home was hard at first. In the summers before I came to RNS, I had been to a couple three-week camps, and I’ve been away from home before, so for the first two or three weeks at RNS, I was completely fine. After those first few weeks, though, I more or less went into shock because I realized that I wasn’t only staying a few weeks; that I’d be at RNS for the entire school year and basketball season. After those first few weeks, I did get a little homesick, but I had a lot of support. Having my aunt there was also great because I had a little bit of family to fall back on. Most of all, though, the team was really there for me. My teammates were the ones who kept me up and kept me going. They made me feel at home, and feel like family. They got me through it.
Right now, I am one of the smaller post or power forward players in the league
. I’m playing against my teammate Tyler Fiaui
– who is 7 feet tall – and most of the other guys in the league are 6’9” or 6’8”. I stand at 6’4”. Due to my slight height handicap, I think my speed is a huge advantage. I’m quicker than most of the guys I play against, which is something I exploit a lot. The fact that my opponents underestimate me also is huge for me. They think that, because they’re a little bigger and a little stronger, that they’ll get to walk all over me, but, in reality, I just go right at them, and always keep pushing as hard as I can.
My underdog mentality reflects itself in my work ethic. I knew coming into the season that, being a first year here, I would definitely have to work harder than everyone else. I thought that I was in good shape physically, but I quickly realised that I was not up to par. That made me realize that I had to work harder in order to catch up to everyone else, but once I got to their level, I kept pushing myself and kept striving to be better than I was. I’m working to get better than all my doubters thought I could be. Hopefully I’ll be better than everyone who has underestimated me at some point.
I have noticed a lot of specific improvements I have made to my game since arriving at RNS. One big thing is the fact that I have become a lot faster. I dropped 20 pounds as soon as I got to RNS, so my lateral and vertical quickness has gone up significantly. I’ve also made huge strides in my shooting. I have made noticable improvements in my non-physical game as well – namely my mentality. I have learned to just to keep fighting, not only in games, but also in practices. Coach Gay runs tough practices. He really drills us into being one of the most athletic teams in the league, demands our team to be extremely hard working on defense. We are dogs on defense. I’ve noticed a great improvement in my ability to just being able to get down and stay in front of the guy I’m defending, but I’ve also noticed a great improvement in my mental stamina.
My favourite class in school right now would have to be technology, or maybe math. The teachers here at RNS are great. They really just make each class interesting, which makes everything so much more fun. I come from a family of entrepreneurs who run their own businesses, so, in the future, I’ll definitely be taking over their businesses or creating my own. I plan on taking business management courses or building towards an accounting degree in my post-secondary education path, which will allow me to keep on top of everything I do with my family. I am also looking to play basketball at the collegiate level. I really do want to get to that next level, and if I’m able to play on a university team while ensuring my academic success, it would be a dream come true.
Outside of basketball and school, I am working really hard on becoming a huge part of my father’s business. We make concrete countertops, and work on all kinds of interior an exterior design. I’m doing that for most of the summer. I’m also doing a lot of work in the gym just to get ready for next season and trying to improve my game even more.
My pregame routine involves me listening to a lot of music by Logic or Eminem. I also try to get into a happy mood before games. I find that if I’m too serious going into games, I start doubting myself and I become really self-critical throughout the game. I really try to keep an open mind, keep a smile on my face, and be happy, because if I don’t play like I love the game of basketball, then it’s not a great game for me. If I’m loving the game, in the zone, with a huge smile on my face, while having fun, I’m going to play my best game.