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River Lions announce staff additions, including 13-time U Sports champion coach

Former Carleton Ravens (U Sports) coach Dave Smart is among the new recruits on the Niagara River Lions staff
Trae Bell Haynes
File photo provided by the Niagara River Lions
The Niagara River Lions announced today their full 2021 coaching, training and medical staff under head coach and general manager, Victor Raso and assistant general manager Antwi Atuahene, which includes four returning assistant coaches from 2020, and the recently announced addition of former River Lion player Tyrone Watson. The River Lions also announced that Canadian coaching legend, Dave Smart will join the organization as executive coach and regional scout.

“Antwi and I are proud to announce our staff for the 2021 season,” said Raso. “This diverse group boasts coaching, playing and management experience and expertise at the youth, college and professional levels. This staff was built based on a shared work ethic and camaraderie that will provide our players a great opportunity to reach their potential.”

Smart, who joins the team as executive coach and regional scout is the most successful coach in Canadian university men’s basketball history who earned a .925 winning percentage with the Carleton Ravens from 1999-2000 through the 2018-19 season after which he transitioned to a new role with the university. Smart led the Ravens to 13 U Sports Final 8 national championships, three of which included Victor Raso on the team as a player in 2013, captain in 2014 and assistant coach in 2015.

In addition to his U Sports coaching career, Smart has worked with Canada Basketball representing his country at several FIBA championships and qualifying tournaments. In 2019-20 he was appointed as a coaching consultant by the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League. He was named the first general manager of the Ottawa Blackjacks of the CEBL in 2020, and now joins the River Lions where he will assist the coaching staff in clarifying objectives and in developing a strategy that will help the team achieve their goals.

Returning to the staff this season will be assistant coaches Jeff Joseph, Mick Bett, Danielle Boiago and Jeff Zwolak who each bring a unique set of experience and skills from their different backgrounds, but who also have long standing relationships with Victor Raso that will help the strength of the coaching team, and their ability to trust each other.

Hamilton, Ont. native Jeff Joseph has been with the River Lions since 2019 and brings 14 years of U Sports coaching experience at McMaster University, 15 years at the high school level and 21 years at Blessed Sacrament Basketball Club to the team.

Born in Norfolk, England, and now residing in the Niagara region, Mick Bett has over 12 years of professional playing experience and over 25 years of coaching experience, including two with the River Lions. Bett is currently in his fourth year as the assistant coach of the Ridley College Prep Boys Basketball Program in St. Catharines. At the age of 17, Bett began playing semi professionally, earning several titles and accolades along the way. In just his second year of coaching he was named the Coach of the Year in the British Basketball League. He went on to earn the same award for a second consecutive year, leading his Division 1 team to win the league trophy. Bett was the first player in

English basketball history to play for and then coach the England National Team. Bett has been a Eurosport Commentator since 2004 covering countless events including the Olympic Games. 

Assistant coach of McMaster University women’s basketball for the past three years, Danielle Boiago will also re-join the team for 2021. Boiago was a five-year starter at McMaster where, in 2017, she became the first player in Maruaders history to win the U Sports Player of the Year, while also finishing her career as the all-time leader in points and steals and second in assists and rebounds. 

Stoney Creek native Jeff Zwolak will be re-joining the team in his 3rd season on the River Lions staff after joining midway through the inaugural CEBL season. Zwolak has been long time assistant coach with the Cardinal Newman Cardinals basketball program in Stoney Creek, and is also a founding member of the Newman Youth Basketball organization. He is currently the principal of Lake Avenue elementary school in Hamilton and brings an invaluable attitude and perspective to the staff.

As recently announced, Tyrone Watson will re-join the team in a new capacity as assistant coach. Watson was drafted by the River Lions in the fourth round of the inaugural CEBL draft in 2019 and signed with the team for the 2020 CEBL Summer Series after which he accepted his first coaching position with Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia as an Assistant Coach for the X-Men. Tyrone graduated from NCAA Division I New Mexico State and went on to spend most of his professional playing career in Canada.

Team training and medical staff will include head athletic therapist Dianna Moulden, strength and conditioning coach, Matrixx Ferreira (Iron Performance), team doctor, Dr. Michael Torigian, team dentist, Dr. Wid Mohamad (Tooth Harmony Dental), team chiropractor, Dr. Mark Lessey, and mental skills coach, Mahsa Durbano (Limitless Performance).

The basketball operations team will be led by Noah Rodrique and include student interns Jake Zabolotney, Mitchel Pulla, Mike Giodrano and Seth Prior.

The CEBL is preparing for its third season in 2021 following the success of the 2020 CEBL Summer Series hosted in St. Catharines, which saw a record 1.2 million viewers across Canada tune in to four days of live programming on CBC.