VIU Mariners player Usama Zaid scores a lay-up during the season opener against the Camosun Chargers on Saturday at the VIU gym.

VIU’s new star off to a high-scoring start

Usama Zaid, swingman with the Vancouver Island University Mariners, was chosen the PacWest Athlete of the Week.

VIU’s new star player needed only one game to make an impact, and there’s a lot more, still, to his game.

Usama Zaid, swingman with the Vancouver Island University Mariners, was chosen the PacWest Athlete of the Week after scoring 38 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in his debut, an 89-77 win against the Camosun Chargers on Saturday at the VIU gym.

“Once I started getting my pull-up jumpers to go and started getting good drives to the rack, then it just kind of got me going and then I was in my zone,” Zaid said.

Matt Kuzminski, VIU coach, said Zaid has a lot of aspects to his game that will cause difficulties for opposing teams.

“He’s going to be very tough [with] his athleticism, his ball-handling ability, his ability to get to the rack,” Kuzminski said.

And there’s more – Zaid can also be a threat from beyond the three-point arc and can be a smart passer.

“The thing we didn’t see [Saturday] that Usama’s shown in the pre-season and practice is that he’s actually a very good distributor,” the coach said. “He’ll need to focus on that a little bit more because teams are going to really load to him.”

Zaid said the Mariners can sometimes get too stagnant on offence and said sometimes he tries to force things one-on-one.

“So I’m still working on further building that chemistry and trying to get the ball moving all the way across the floor…” he said. “We’ve got so many guys that can put it in the basket, it’s going to be tough for teams to guard us if we get that ball moving.”

It was a bit of serendipity that brought Zaid, who is from Los Angeles, to Nanaimo. He starred last season with Oregon’s Lane Titans, leading the Northwest Athletic Conference in points per game (24.2) and leading his team in rebounding (9.1). The Mariners keep an eye on the NWAC and had made inquiries about Zaid early last season.

Then, mid-summer, VIU learned that its PacWest Player of the Year, forward Josh Ross, had unexpectedly decided to move away for family reasons.

Meanwhile, some of Zaid’s playing possibilities fell through due to academics.

“It was a lucky situation for us to be able to get a guy that late, for sure…” Kuzminski said. “Losing Josh, the player of the year, we were going to be filling quite the void and Usama, I think he’s got the potential to be the player of the year in this league, too.”

It’s only one game into a long season, but it’s an encouraging start for a new star player and for his whole team.

“We wanted to start off with a good game…” said Zaid. “We were at home, we had a beautiful crowd, it was nice, and we just wanted to take that energy and push it on into the rest of the season.”

VIU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are home again this coming weekend (Nov. 4-5), hosting the Douglas Royals and the Capilano Blues, respectively.

Friday is being billed as Alumni Night at the VIU gym. Mariners alumni and guests will be admitted free to the game and are invited to a private reception; for information, please e-mail Tricia.mayba@viu.ca.

GAME ON … The women’s game tips off Friday at 6 p.m. at the VIU gym with the men to follow at 8 p.m.; Saturday’s game times are 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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