Article by Lindsay Hillstrom
The Aquinas men’s basketball team won their first game of the season on Tuesday, October 26 by a score of 66-63 over Taylor University. Sammie Ryans led the team with 21 points, including three 3-pointers. Justin Lary also put up a strong performance with 13 points and 7 rebounds, and Jesse Hillis and Jaylen Rutherford each scored 11 points.
With this victory, the Saints are off to a strong start to the season. They are led by Head Coach Ryan Bertoia, as well as some new faces on the bench. This year, they’re not all incoming freshmen players: the basketball program recently welcomed three new assistant coaches.
Kevin White joins the Saints coaching staff as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Having coached at University of Wisconsin-Stout last year and a number of Michigan high schools and colleges in the years prior, Coach White expressed his excitement about coaching at Aquinas. “Everybody’s been great. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve known Coach Bertoia for about 10 years and I’ve been around Aquinas for a long time so I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with him,” he said. “The best part has been that everyone else has been so friendly and nice and willing to help…. It’s nice coming to a small college like Aquinas where everybody knows each other and everybody is working towards the same cause.”
As for the team’s goals for the season, Coach White stated, “We’re just trying to get the guys to understand that it’s a lifelong investment going to a school like this and winning basketball games is of course very important, but the bond you’re going to have with the guys you played with [is even more important]. These are the guys that are going to stand up at your wedding, these are the guys that when you have a kid, they’ll call you… so we’re just trying to build on that.”
Photo courtesy of AQ Athletics
Former Saints star Pedja Lazic returns to Aquinas as a volunteer assistant coach after a stint playing professional basketball in Europe. As the only Aquinas player ever to earn First Team All American honors, he was recently inducted into the Aquinas College Hall of Fame. Lazic described the experience as “truly an honor. It hit me as I walked into the gymnasium on that night, beautifully organized and prepared, being recognized for my accomplishments, seeing familiar faces, reminiscing, and catching up with great friends, athletes, coaches, and staff. My heart was so full that night, which I will cherish and never forget.”
On joining the AQ coaching staff, Lazic commented, “The coaching staff has been so supportive, made me feel valued, respected, and allowed me to be a part of their family. I am already building special relationships and that is what it is all about. Games are played, won or lost, and some forgotten, but relationships are what stick for a long time.”
Recent Aquinas graduate and former Saints basketball player Beau LePage also joins the staff as head coach of the JV men’s basketball team. “My expectations going into this season are for us to finish in the top tier of the league,” LePage said. “We have a lot of talent and I have seen some great things during preseason. Our guys work hard and are really starting to understand how us coaches want them to play the game.” Together with Bertoia, this new trio hopes to lead the Saints to be contenders in the WHAC Conference, make a run in the Conference Tournament, and perhaps even go to nationals.