Developing Dominance: Vikes basketball star Chris McLaughlin ready to take on Canada West

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By Lachlan Ross (ISN), Photos by Glenn Ivens (ISN)

September 27, 2013, Victoria, BC – UVic Vikes men’s basketball center Chris McLaughlin is ready to be a dominant force in Canada West basketball action this season. ISN’s Lachlan Ross profiles the big man in this ISN exclusive.

In mid January it became clear University of Victoria basketball big man, Chris McLaughlin, was ready to make his six-foot-ten presence felt. After two years playing behind senior centers, it was a game against Brandon University McLaughlin would get 17 points, four rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in just 23 minutes court time off the bench. This ignited a clear pursuit for the starting role, demonstrating his abilities nightly as the Vikes went on a 9-1 run to finish the regular season.

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In 15 games and four starts for the Vikes in regular season play, McLaughlin averaged 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, shooting 56% from the field. But it was the finish to the year that left McLaughlin’s size 15 shoeprint on the CIS [Canadian Interuniversity Sport]. Becoming the Vikes starting center for playoffs, McLaughlin lead the team in scoring five of their seven playoff games, averaging 16 points and 8.6 rebounds, to help the Vikes claim sixth place at Nationals.

“I think he’s always been a big, strong guy with lots of attributes,” says Vikes coach, Craig Beaucamp, “but last year he really started to believe in his own abilities… To be honest, we just got to a point where we decided we were going to go with [McLaughlin] and you’ve got to sink or swim and he flourished under that opportunity.”

McLaughlin had been presented the chance to start before in November, when fifth year center, Pierce Anderson, went down with an ankle injury. Third year McLaughlin put up 22 points and seven rebounds in a win over the University of Fraser Valley, but a week later would suffer an ankle sprain of his own in practice to sideline him four games.

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“I was getting really pumped up and excited and was getting used to that role,” says McLaughlin. “Getting hurt in practice is just something you never want to happen.” While it took the Christmas break and first few weeks of January to regain his touch, McLaughlin would continue to contribute off the bench, awaiting the coach’s call.

Beaucamp says he credits McLaughlin’s lift in performance last season to time spent with former Vikes and team Canada big men, Phil Ohl and Spencer McKay. “I think what [McLaughlin] really benefitted from there was not so much technical stuff, but confidence.”

“When you’re working with a player, I think it’s really important to firstly find out what kind of personality they are,” says McKay. “With [McLaughlin], he’s a really nice guy, a really kind of laid back guy, which in some respects is very good. But when you’re playing the position he’s playing, you’ve got to be a little bit mean and he didn’t have that in his personality.” McKay says a lot of the work he did with McLaughlin simply involved talking about basketball and sharing experiences and techniques from his own career. “Trying to find that alter-ego, as I call it. You’re not going to change his personality off the court, but you can certainly try on the court.”

McKay did individual workouts three times a week with McLaughlin, as well as phone calls and lunches to discuss his role. “I think in the past, [McLaughlin] was content with being just mediocre in practice and not really pushing himself past his comfort zone,” says McKay. “[McLaughlin’s] skills and his abilities were pretty obvious right away, [so] I think the main thing was first of all dominating in practice, then once you’re able to dominate in practice for a few weeks, then your confidence starts to rise in real game situations.”

One of the key characteristics of McLaughlin’s game McKay and Beaucamp talk about is his ability as a three-point shooter. “For a big guy, he has great hands and has a great shooting touch,” says Beaucamp. “To be honest, he may be as good a shooter as we have on the team.” But while both coaches recognize this strength, they are wary of how it detracts from other areas of McLaughlin’s game.

“UVic’s sort of persona over the last say twenty or thirty years has always been inside oriented,” says McKay. “The game has changed a little bit now, there’s more tendency to go smaller, [so] it’s nice to see a big man who can play that style of game. [McLaughlin] is a good example of a modern big man because he can step out and shoot threes… [But] in his first two years, he was just content floating around and taking three point shots. As a six-foot-ten guy, you’ve got to teach him he’s going to be a lot more effective inside. Once he’s effective inside, you’re still going to get those outside shots, but why not take advantage of your size and go inside a little bit.”

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Vikes assistant coach, Phil Ohl, who was recently inducted into the Basketball BC Hall of Fame, says one of the main learning curves in university basketball is understanding what the coach expects of you. “[It’s about] soaking all that in in your first few years and then developing a level of comfort with it, to the point where you don’t have to think the game as much as you can just play the game. I think [McLaughlin] is at a point now where he is just playing.”

UVic has a history of developing National Team big men, like Gerald Kazanowski, Eric Hinrichsen, and Spencer McKay. Ohl, who is another member of this esteemed list, says in the Vikes program, “there is a history of guys stepping into sort of a bigger version of themselves and filling that role… I think what’s happened for [McLaughlin], in terms of his confidence, is that his mindset has shifted to the point where he recognizes his strengths, he recognizes his size, he recognizes his abilities, and consequently is willing to bring that onto the court on a daily basis… I think he has the potential of being the premier big man in the country at the CIS level, which ultimately could springboard him into all sorts of opportunities beyond CIS.”

Spending this summer in Victoria rather than returning home to Oakville, Ontario, like previous years, allowed McLaughlin to continue workouts with his coaches. After a solid summer of training, McLaughlin says he’s ready for the season ahead. “Individually, I have a goal of being a Canada West All-Star,” he says. “I think I can do it and I definitely have the opportunity this year.” But McLaughlin’s main focus is his team returning to nationals. “After having a taste of it and knowing what it takes to get there, it’s pretty exciting to think that we have the opportunity to do that again.”

While Beaucamp and Ohl will continue to develop McLaughlin this season, McKay has accepted a fulltime assistant coaching position with rival University of British Columbia. “Now that I’m at UBC, I’m kind of regretting the work I did with him,” McKay jokes. “He’s just improved on so many different levels that we have more than one or two things to worry about. He’s going to be a handful the next couple of years and I just hope that he takes it easy on us when we play him, but I kind of doubt that’s going to happen.”

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