Regular season record: 24-6
Championships: 5 – 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969
Appearances: 16 – 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2007, 2010
Notable wins: vs Carleton Ravens (74-71), at Western (85-55)
Notable losses: at Ryerson (98-78), vs Ottawa Gee-Gees (81-70), vs McMaster (84-72)
WINDSOR, ON—In order to reach the CIS Final 8, the Windsor Lancers had to lose their top three players.
Sure, maybe that’s not exactly true, but that’s surely what it looks like.
Now in his tenth season at the helm of the Lancers, head coach Chris Oliver finally heads back to the CIS national championships for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. “I knew how good so many OUA teams were going to be coming into the season,” Oliver tells NPH, “so yes, our success to this extent is a surprise.”
The Lancers booked their ticket for the 2015 Arcelormittal Dofasco CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8 after defeating the favored Ottawa Gee-Gees in the Wilson Cup semifinal and finished second in the OUA when it lost against the Carleton Ravens. “In moments like Friday night’s win against Ottawa,” Oliver says, “I definitely took a moment to enjoy what this team has accomplished.”
The Lancers have become regulars by now, seemingly always leaving their mark in Ontario—after all, Oliver’s coaching record at Windsor was of 142-58 entering this season. “We have been pretty consistent over the last  years,” Oliver says. “We have graduated a tonne of players and through it all, we have stayed nationally relevant.”
Nationally relevant, yes, but not always invited to the national dance. But for once this season, the team is on the right end of things. “I am very proud of their progress,” Oliver says of his players, “especially given the quality of the OUA this season.”
That quality was indeed legendary this season, with four teams from the conference making the CIS Final 8 and the first five slots of the CIS Top 10 all occupied by teams from the OUA for seemingly the entire season.
It didn’t seem likely that a team that had lost graduating seniors Lien Phillip, Enrico Diloreto and Josh Collins, and a team that always seemed to come up just short, would be among the eight invitees to the CIS national championships. But, here we are. Oliver says that, “I knew we had talented, proud players ready to redefine our team.”
Many experts weren’t sold on the potential of this Windsor team [Editor’s note: chief, among them, was CBG], even after a stellar preseason. The losses of the three seniors had to mean something, some would argue, and a No. 5 pre-season ranking from the CIS seemed high. “I don’t blame anyone for not being convinced,” Oliver says. “It wasn’t just the graduation. It was also known players like Evan (Matthews) and Rotimi (Osuntola Jr.) in new roles.”
Well after a season as this one, it seems like these players have answered Oliver’s call. The Windsor coaching staff worked hard to define specific roles for many players. The team needed a rim protector? Enter Evan Matthews, who has been “an impactful rim protector and leader at the rim,” says Oliver. “As a group, (the players) committed early to a culture of effort and togetherness and through the ups and downs of the season, they have fought for that culture every day.”
The head coach also praises the play of Alex Campbell, Mike Rocca and Khalid Abdel-Gabar, who “have gone above and beyond in the quality of their play.”
Maybe it’s because they understand that excellent results usually follow. Another thing that does, at least relative to the average OUA and CIS team, is to get wins against the mighty Carleton Ravens. Is there a recipe to beating Carleton? It’s “a mindset and a belief,” Oliver says. “Belief can create the actual reality and for our program, the program has been that on certain nights we can beat Carleton.”
They certainly can. Oliver and Windsor have a 2-3 record in the previous five games between the two programs, no small feat against the powerhouse that head coach Dave Smart has built in Ottawa. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the Lancers, while they haven’t reached the heights of Carleton, have certainly been consistently great this past decade.
A mindset and a belief—Oliver would do well to repeat this to his players. If the Lancers hope to lift the W. P. McGee Trophy at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, they might have to face Carleton.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG & NPH @Northpolehoops