CALGARY,AB–This our look at Canada West Basketball as we approach the season’s tip-off for 2011-12. We have a team by team prognosis, and our fearless guesswork as to the ultimate order of finish. We start with the eight schools west of the Rockies …Canada West’s ‘West Division’, but we’ll stick with the Pacific Division …more descriptive, lyrical ….
UBC-Okanagan enters the fray this year, it changes the schedule, yet again.
The Heat cannot be expected to contend early on, and, if TRU is any indication, the road to competitiveness is long and winding. They may look forward to two more ‘newbies’ in 2012, as Mount Royal and UNBC are in the wings.
All this change has the larger schools in the League looking at re-alignment options, and that discussion could boil up over the winter and into the spring.
The six Pacific teams will play an 18 game schedule, significantly down from the 24 game marathon of last year. They are vying for three playoff spots in the eight team quarter-finals, with a chance of a wildcard for the 4th place team.
The Prairie (East) Division, which we preview later, will get four playoff spots, with a wildcard chance for their 5th place team, for their 8 school Division.
Fraser Valley Cascades … Coach Barnaby Craddock – 3rd year
Last year … 10-14
The Cascades may be poised for “our best CIS season to date”, according to Coach Craddock. They have a good blend of solid returnees and a few additions who are expected to give the team a chance to win come February and March. The guard duo of 3rd year, Joel Friesen, a Canada West all-star last season, and Sam Freeman (4th) return 17 ppg and 15 ppg respectively, and they have the experience to lead UFV through what Craddock calls a ‘tougher schedule than some other teams in our Division’.
Forwards Jasper Moedt (6’7″, 3rd) and Kyle Grewal (6’6″, 4th) return to the squad after missing 2010-11 with injuries, and their scoring and rebounding will make a huge difference for the blue and green. Moedt is more of a banger, while Grewal has the finesse of a guard. James York, a 6’1″, 4th year guard from Richland , WA “is an impact point guard”, says Craddock, and “Mike James ( 6’6″, 5th year transfer – Winnipeg) ” … is also having a great preseason, and gives us depth and scoring/rebounding inside.”
Sheldon Bjoorgard, a 5’10”, 4th year, combo guard can contribute, along with the speedy, 6’3″, Klaus Figuerdo, a 3rd year transfer from NAIT in the Alberta Colleges League. A rookie with an exciting future appears to be Jordan Blackman, a big guard, at 6’6″ , from Abbotsford’s Yale Sr. Secondary.
Coach Craddock, who played professionally in Europe following his CIS career at Lethbridge, where he was a Canada West and CIS All-Star, was the Canada West and CIS Coach of the Year in 2006-07, as his Brandon Bobcats went 20-2 in League play, and were runners-up in the CIS Nationals. He knows what it takes to get his team ready to win when it counts, and he is hopeful the Cascades can earn a home playoff berth, then contend for Canada West honours.
Thompson Rivers Wolfpack … Coach Scott Clark – 2nd year
Last year … 4-20
After 15 years at Simon Fraser, Coach Clark has settled in at TRU, back in the Okanagan, with a mission to build a contending program at the relatively young school. “We want to develop our young talent”, says Clark. “We need to win the recruiting battle for the good kids in our own region, then we want to develop a team the right way.”
The 2011 recruiting class is an impressive one for the ‘Pack, and include local high school grads, the brothers Bozinovic, Ivan and Blaz, twin 6’10” forwards, who Clark hopes to take from “A’ level prep players to Canada West stand-outs. “We have to be patient with our process, and our success rate will determine our ability to attract top recruits”, suggested Clark.
Another 1st year player who appears ready to contribute right away is Will Kondrik, a 6’7″ forward who developed his game at Vernon Sr. Sec., and White Rock Christian Academy. Kondrick registered a double – double (11 pts and 10 rebounds) in a Wolfpack win over Memorial recently.
“These rookies will play every game … we want them to experience this level of play, and be motivated to improve”, said Clark. Justin King, a 3rd year transfer forward from Skagit Valley CC, is one recruit who is ready for prime – time now. King was the Washington Colleges MVP last season, and he is a dynamic scorer and rebounder. The ‘Pack also welcome UBC transfer, Akeem Pierre, a 6’3″ 3rd year guard with speed and great athletic ability.
The heart of this TRU squad will still be the guard – forward duo of Kevin Pribilsky and Chas Kok, who played for Coach Clark at SFU, and who bring a veteran’s poise and work ethic to the team. Kok was the leading scorer last season at 17 ppg, and he added 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Pribilsky scored at a 15 ppg clip, and counted 3 asst/game.
Thompson Rivers will be a stronger team this season, and, with the determination and vision of Scott Clark, a program to be reckoned with in the near future.
Trinity Western Spartans … Coach Scott Allen – 4th year
Last year … 21-3
The Spartans are coming off their best season ever in CIS basketball, with their Jacob Doerksen-led squad qualifying for Nationals, then beating UBC to make it to the Final before losing to Carleton. They may have lost big ‘Jake’ and others like Tyrell Mara, Daniel Horner, Lance Verhoeff, and Tonner Jackson, but there is still an array of talent in Langley.
Tristan Smith and Eli Mara are complimentary combo- guards who can both direct the attack, and have scoring skills as well. Kyle Coston, the rangy, 6’8″ lefty, who had such a great playoff run last year, is back for his final season, and, when he shakes off a nagging knee problem, should be a points leader again. Calvin Westbrook, who averaged 14 ppg with his smooth jumper last season, will be a real spark from the wing, and 3rd year forward, Niko Monachini, Richmond, BC, is a logical candidate to pick up some of the rebounding slack with his enthusiastic style and big 6’6″ frame.
Newcomer Sean Peter, a 5th year player, who was an OUA all-star with some very strong Ottawa Gee-Gees teams, could be an impact performer as a big guard at 6’3″. Another outstanding pick-up is 2nd year guard, Justin Bakuteka, from Toronto via Lakeland College (Lloydminster, AB) . “Justin is quick, and can really push the ball for us”, said Coach Allen.
Unfortunately, their big (6′ 11″) post man, Lucas Nugteren , appears to be struggling once again with a knee injury which has plagued him for several years, and his availability is in question.
TWU, who warmed up with a ‘recruiting’ trip to China, has established a solid program in the past few years, and they should figure prominently in the Pacific Division race again this season.
UBC Thunderbirds … Coach – Kevin Hanson – 13th year
Last year … 22-2
The T-Birds have been the team to beat for much of the past decade in Canada West. Coach Kevin Hanson is a two-time CIS Coach of the Year, and has won the honour 5 times in Canada West, including last season. The ‘Birds may have lost standouts like their 3 top scorers, Josh Whyte, Brent Malish, and Alex Murphy, but they can’t be considered to be in a building year.
Nathan Yu, a speedy guard in his 4th year, scored 13 ppg last year, and, with his experience playing at both the FISU Games and Pan Am Games this summer and fall, should be a great floor leader.
Doug Plumb is another seasoned scoring guard, and he hit for 11 ppg, which should rise this season. Kamar Burke, the 6-6″ 5th year forward, and Graham Bath, a bruising 6’5″ post man will hit the boards with their usual gusto, and this may be the year for the 6’9″ Balraj Bains to make a big impact up front.
Tommy Nixon, a 2nd year guard from nearby Kitsilano HS, may be the next ‘feature guard’ for UBC, and he has had a good pre-season. David Wagner , 6’8″, South Kamloops HS, was a big rookie signing for the ‘Birds, as he was widely recruited even in NCAA Div. 1. Wagner may be brought along slowly, but he has the tools to be an outstanding freshman post.
Mike Lewandowski, a star at Pitt Meadows 2 years ago, was a red-shirt in 2010-11 as he had some knee problems, but the 6’7″ forward is ready to rumble now and should be in the top 8 rotation.
Rookie Nakai Luyken, a 6’2″ point guard (Yale Sr. Sec., Abbotsford), has started 5 games in the pre-season, and is a man to be watched as he gains experience.
Coach Hanson suggests, ” We are not as deep (with experience) as in the past, so key guys may get more minutes, and we will shorten the bench earlier in the year. We are more of a post oriented team than in past years ….”
UBC – Okanagan Heat … Coach – Darren Semeniuk – 7th year
The new guys on the block are trying to “build from the ground up”, says Coach Darren Semeniuk a former Canada West all-star as a player with Alberta, and a successful bench boss in the BC Colleges League, where he has a 63-38 win-loss record.
“We go into this (Canada West) season with our eyes wide open”, says the coach.
“We will be building players and a culture of Team and work ethic … for the future.”
The Heat will look to some veteran players to lead as they make the big step-up in competition … 6’5″ , 4th year forward Steve Morrison, is a team captain and the leading rebounder, while Yassine Ghomari, a 3rd year guard, has been the most consistent scoring threat during this pre-season. 2nd year forward Mack Roth is also a threat to score with a sharp jump-shot, and the willingness to take it inside as well.
UBC-O is blessed with some good rookie talent … Bret MacDonald, a point guard from Terry Fox, Port Coquitlam, is already showing the composure to contribute early in his career, while Julian Asselstine, Charles Best Sec., Coquitlam looks like another scorer in the making. Post man, Ben Hindson, 6’9″ , from down the Lake in Naramata, who played at Brentwood College, is a quick study for the inside game.
Coach Semeniuk acknowledges “we won’t be focusing on these better (Canada West) programs for at least 2-3 years. We have a long-term focus and vision for player and team development.”
The basketball fans in the Central and Southern Okanagan are expected to give the team good support as the Heat embark on an exciting 1st year in Canada West.
Victoria Vikes … Coach – Craig Beaucamp – 8th year
Last year … 15-9
The Vikes are a team of veterans with a healthy dose of college transfers and high school recruits. The 5th year trio of Ryan McKinnon, Mike Berg, and Zac Andrus should provide the leadership on the floor … McKinnon, a 17 ppg scorer and a Canada West all-star last season lends the offensive punch, while Andrus, the diminutive lefty, should up his 5 ppg this year. Berg was the 2nd leading scorer with 11 ppg, and is the Vikes top board beast at 5.5 rpg.
Pierce Anderson, a 4th year post from Calgary has improved every season and he is expected to be a big factor inside, both scoring and rebounding. Reese Pribilsky, a 2nd year point man from Victoria, should also give valuable minutes in the back-court.
Coach Craig Beaucamp was active on the recruiting front, bringing in 4 high school prospects, and adding 3 college players, who should contribute immediately. Reiner Theil, 6’4″, Vancouver College, may be the best of the rookies, as he can score and rebound.
Vijay Dhillon is a well-regarded point guard from BC HS champions, RC Palmer, with Dominic Ohl, a 6’7″ , Claremont (Victoria) wing man, and Sean Patrick, a 6’4″ forward from London, ON completing the prep class.
Terrell Evans is a 6’4″, 3rd year transfer from Yakima Valley (WA) CC, and is expected to be in the 8-9 man rotation, and so might 4th year Humber Coll., Toronto, transfer Michael Acheampong, a 6’2″ guard. John Woldu, a 3rd year, transfer guard from the Windsor Lancers should also be in the mix.
The Vikes, like many other Canada West teams made big changes (9 new faces), and they are chasing a playoff berth, with hopes of getting back to the Final Four since their 3 in a row from 2004-2007, and a Canada West title in 2005-06.
Predicted Order of Finish
- UBC T-Birds … 14 wins 4 losses … the ‘Birds, with vet leaders and top recruits, are still a threat to win in March.
- Fraser Valley Cascades … 13 – 5 … deeper, more experienced, and ready to step up to Final 4.
- Victoria Vikes … 12 – 6 … added real talent and depth. Defense may get them deep in playoffs.
- Trinity Western Spartans … 11- 7 … injuries may limit success. Best case, they may still contend.
- Thompson Rivers Wolfpack … 8 – 10 … big progress as Coach Clark builds his program patiently.
- UBC-Okanagan Heat … 2 – 16 … tough 1st season. Need time to develop players, program.
- Huge win for Canada at the Pan Am Games on Wednesday … 83-79 in OT over Argentina, driven by a monster 35 point effort from Carleton’s 2nd year guard, Phil Scrubb (Vancouver, BC). Scrubb hit a trey to get the game to extra time, then scored 7 of Canada’s 13 in the OT. Canada plays Mexico tonight in their 2nd game.
- The UC Dinos are having a team -building weekend at a secret location in the Rockies … rumour has it Coach Vanhooren has engaged the services of a ‘Shaman’ with hopes that incantations, smoke and feathers will work wonders with several injuries his charges have incurred.
- More international players on Canada West rosters than ever before … more schools looking south of the border, and many have been successful in landing U.S. Junior College stars or NCAA returnees. Other countries represented as well … Australia, Britain, The Netherlands, Turkey.