David Penney of Guelph has found that the west coast style of basketball suits his style.
Penney’s a starting point guard in his sophomore season with the Simon Fraser Clan of Burnaby, B.C.
“What I would say is that the east coast game back home is a lot different than this game over here on the west coast,” the 21-year-old says. “West coast is more like finesse and get your jump shots up. Back home I feel like we're a lot more rough. We go to the basket more, we play faster. That's different about what's over here.
“I like to get downhill. I'm a finesse guy, too. I play both styles, but I really like our system, too. It's good for me.”
He’s also grown into the system. His freshman season at SFU was the 2019-2020 campaign when he played in 28 games, starting two of them.
“I used to be a really fast guy, just go down the court and score,” he says. “Now I'm learning how to change pace and be deceptive on the floor. I think I've really grown as a player over the years.”
He averaged 2.9 points per game in his first season and now that average in his sophomore season is up to 9.0 after nine games. He’s had three games where he’s hit double digits in scoring with his best being 19. He had seven steals in a conference game and also had seven rebounds in the season-opener.
“I've definitely become more patient and I see the game way better,” he says.
Penney might not be that well-known in Guelph as he never played high school basketball here. Born in Toronto, he grew up in Guelph as his family moved here when he was one.. He went to June Avenue Public School until Grade 6 and then moved on to play prep ball at St. John's-Kilmarnock, the private school on Maryhill Road.
When the prep team at SJK reached the end of its run, he moved on to the London Basketball Academy based out of London’s Saunders Secondary School and then to Middleburg Academy in Middleburg, Va., for two years.
“Playing in Virginia was exciting,” he says. “Over in the States, all the sports are just way bigger, way more exciting. We actually had a pretty good run in my last year. We went to the state championship. We didn't get it done, but we played in Virginia State (University) and the crowd was packed. Playing down in the States is a lot different, especially in high school.
“It was a small-town school, but we had big crowds just from the town.”
SFU is a rarity in Canadian university sports as it actually plays in the 10-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference, an NCAA Division 2 league, with nine U.S. schools – four in Washington State (Seattle Pacific, Central Washington, Western Washington and Saint Martin's), two in Alaska (Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks) and one each in Idaho (Northwest Nazarene), Montana (Montana State Billings) and Oregon (Western Oregon).
The conference is back in full operation this season after the conference championships were cancelled due to COVID last season.
“There were a bunch of teams that didn't play,” Penney says. “There were five teams in our conference that played and five that didn't.”
SFU didn’t play. Being the lone team that had to cross the border for every conference road trip made it impossible to participate.
School was online, but the athletes were still there so they got plenty of gym and weight-room time.
“We would practise every day still because you can't really give scholarships to guys that aren't at the school,” the 6-foot-1 Penney says. “We practised every day. Honestly, it wasn't that bad for me.
“That whole year off I just got to get in the gym and work out and lift and get stronger. I actually appreciated the year off. When I first came in to SFU, I was like 166, 167. Now I'm usually around 178, 179.”
Still there’s nothing that compares to actually playing a game and SFU’s return came early last month at a challenge tournament in Carson, Calif. That came after a couple of preseason scrimmages in their own gym.
“It was a great feeling,” Penney says of getting back to game play. “It was good to get around, move around and actually play against other people than your teammates. I remember the first game. You feel a little bit rusty, but you shake the rust off when the ball tips off and you go back and forth a couple of times. It felt pretty good.”
Currently in their break for exams and Christmas, the Clan is 1-0 in conference play, having defeated Western Washington in overtime in a road game early this month. They’re also 6-3 overall including a win in their annual Buchanan Cup match against the UBC Thunderbirds, the U Sports team based in Vancouver.
“Our UBC game, it was sold out and they couldn't let people in because there wasn't enough seats,” Penney says. “Our conference games are always big crowds. We get 500 to 1,000 every now and then.”
Attendance for the game was listed as 1,600.
“We get good turnouts for big games,” Penney says. “We've got a lot of good sports here so most of the games were packed.”
Dressed for the Thunderbirds in that game was one of Penney’s buddies, Lincoln Rosebush. He played high school basketball for the Guelph CVI Green Gaels in the local District 10 league. Penney, Rosebush and a few other friends usually get together for some outdoor hoops play during the summers when they’re all back in Guelph.
“I go home in the summer for a little bit,” Penney says. “I usually go home for Christmas, but we have a short break this year so I'm staying out here.”
The Clan played a non-conference game at home Dec. 7 and are to return to conference play with away games Dec. 30 and Jan. 1. Unlike the Guelph Gryphons and other OUA teams, SFU doesn’t get a month-long break from game play in December.
“Our schedule is tough,” Penney says. “Really the only time I have lots of time to go home is the summer.”
That means sending and receiving Christmas presents in the mail.
Summers at home also mean a lot of workouts and on-court time at Norm Jary Park behind Shelldale School.
“At home, I probably grind – I work out the most when I'm home,” he says. “There are a lot of guys from Guelph that went U Sports. We're all buddies so when we get home, we all work out together. That's what we do in the summer.
"Those games also attract “a lot of guys from all over – Kitchener-Waterloo and Mississauga. We get a lot of guys come out and play.”
Right now those summer games are in the future. It’s all about this season with the Clan, one Penney hopes gets SFU into the conference championship tournament. That alone will equal the Clan’s best season of the last decade, 2018-2019, when they lost in the conference quarterfinals.
“A good season for me, we make it to the conference championship and we win,” he says. “A good season for me is we win conference and we'll have a couple of all-conference players and maybe an all-American. Then we get in the tournament. I don't really see anything going wrong for me personally. I just see needing to win because this is our year, this is our best team.”