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Konchalski 'having a lot of fun' coaching playoff-bound X-Men

During Monday's blizzard, only hours after returning home from consecutive losses at UNB, St. Francis Xavier X-Men head basketball coach Steve Konchalski was in his office in Antigonish, looking for answers to a three-game slump.
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During Monday's blizzard, only hours after returning home from consecutive losses at UNB, St. Francis Xavier X-Men head basketball coach Steve Konchalski was in his office in Antigonish, looking for answers to a mid-winter slump.

You don't get close to 900 wins in more than four decades in Canadian university basketball without putting in some hours.

These haven't been easy years for the 71-year-old Konchalski, whose teams have missed the playoffs for the past two seasons. That didn't happen in his first 40 years with the X-Men.

It led to murmuring that he could no longer relate to young players, that the game he knew as an Acadia player in the 1960s and as a coach at St. F.X. starting in the mid-1970s had long passed him by. The most common question he heard was when did he plan to retire, which, for the record, is not any time soon.

There was more to the losing than that. A group Konchalski recruited was slow to blend. Part of it was personalities within the team, but some had to do with injuries to key players, most notably forward Kevin Bercy and guard Akil Charles.

This year has been different from the start, recent hiccups aside. At 8-9, the X-Men have secured a game in the AUS tournament in Halifax beginning March 3.

They've beaten every team they can face in the tournament except for the two-time defending champion Dalhousie Tigers. Those games have been reasonably close, giving Konchalski a reason to believe the X-Men can make a run.

"I'm happy for this group of seniors who suffered through those two years with me," Konchalski said.

Several in the group came in as freshmen in 2013-14 and got to the conference title game, losing to Saint Mary's. But a 9-31 conference record in the next two seasons was a radical departure for the X-Men program, which won six AUS titles over seven years ending in 2006.

This year's X-Men started 7-3 before dropping six of seven. However, many of the recent losses were close games and the X-Men have scored more points than they've allowed over their 17 regular-season games.

"The reality of the AUS this year is that it's wide open," he said. "I think anybody in this tournament could get hot on a weekend and win it, maybe more so this year than most."

He believes the X-Men underachieved over the past two seasons and he never doubted the top-end talent he had on his roster.

"I think the maturity process for this group took a little longer to kick in," he said. "They were good kids who wanted to do the right thing, but it just wasn't happening on the court the way we wanted it to.

"We added some younger talent that not only has improved our depth, but it has improved our locker room."

All of it combined has sparked Konchalski.

"This is a real fun team to coach," he said. "I'm going to be very disappointed when the season is over because I'm not going to see these kids every single day.

"The good news is everybody on this roster, other than Akil, can be back next year. Not looking past this year, because I honestly believe we have the potential to win this thing, but there are three or four teams that are going to be decimated the starting five is going to be significantly impacted. We've got this group back with another year under their belts.

"So I'm having a lot of fun coaching these kids. I'm excited for the next three weeks, and maybe four depending how we do in the (AUS) playoffs, and I'm excited about the future."

Defensive lapses have been the culprit lately, says Konchalski. But the players have remained positive.

"Our offence is way ahead of our defence and we are having these defensive lapses that are really hurting us," he said. "It is preventing us from winning key games, like the Dalhousie game. Our offence came out and we had a 21-point lead in the first half. They (Dal) tightened up their defence, and that's what they hang their hats on, and we weren't able to do that. So that's the overall concern and that's a work-in-progress."

As for being in the office on a storm day, it's just the way it is even in his 42nd season.

"That's what coaching is about. But that's the fun part of it, too. If you are going to do it as long as I have, you have to enjoy the process. It's just not all about the wins and losses. It's about working with the kids and enjoying the video work everything but the fundraising."



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