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London Lightning shaping up as team philosophy changes course

The John Labatt Centre will be renamed Budweiser Gardens in October. One of its tenants, the London Lightning, has scheduled its training camp around that time. But the basketball club doesn’t plan on making dramatic alterations to its on-court brand.

With about two months to go before London’s home opener on Nov. 3, the reigning National Basketball League of Canada champions are largely content with its roster.

“We’re pretty much done reaching out to players at this point,” Lightning general manager Taylor Brown said.

The essentials from last season’s core — Gabe Freeman, Eddie Smith, Shamari Spears, DeAnthony Bowden, and Tim Ellis — are expected back. The additions of big man Elvin Mims through free agency, and pint-sized guard Adrian Moss via the NBL draft, bump the “locked-in” total to seven.

Four other new faces appear primed to take a spot on the second edition of the highly successful squad. Forwards Jerome Richardson (drafted), Terrell Bell (signed), Josh Pace (signed), as well as guard Travis Cohn (drafted), have been scooped up to complete London’s new approach.

We absolutely have a target on our backs. We’re the champs and everybody knows how good we’re going to be this year. — Lightning GM Taylor Brown on vibes at Monday’s NBL draft

“We’ve got a different philosophy this year,” Brown said of the team’s proposed run-and-gun offence. “We don’t necessarily need any big guys, the 6-foot-11, 7-footers. We want guys who can play multiple positions and create major match-up problems for the other teams.”

Already, rangy Freeman can be penciled in either one of the small forward, power forward, and center positions. Sharp shooter Ellis is effective in both forward positions, too.

“London is where I’m going to finish playing,” said Freeman, a 26-year-old Phoenix, Ariz., native, when asked if the allegiance to the franchise displayed by signing a new contract is a sign of things to come.

As the NBL’s first MVP, Freeman was everything for Lightning bench boss Michael Ray Richardson. Case in point, his double-double average — 18.12 points and 12.24 rebounds per game — went peerless.

However, the 6-foot-7, 215-pounder says he’s not about to rest on his laurels.

“Everything. The total package.” Freeman said, bluntly, referring to what he’s focused on improving over the summer. “I want to be a complete player.”

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