The UBC Thunderbirds are hosting the CIS Final 8 this season, but don’t intend to take the backdoor to get there.
Head coach: Kevin Hanson
Record in 2014: 14-6 (Third in Pioneer division of Canada West Conference)
Playoffs: Canada West fourth place
Points scored per game: 88.0
Points allowed per game: 79.7
Key players: Connor Morgan, Jordan Jensen-Whyte, David Wagner
Key losses: Tommy Nixon, Andrew McGuinness, Brylle Kamen, Tonner Jackson
UBC Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Hanson believes that you should practice and compete in as similar an environment as possible. He’s incorporated it in his team’s schedules: if UBC traveled to Ontario in years past, it was because the CIS Final 8 were held there. And if they had their UBC Invitational at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre this October, it’s because that’s where the CIS Final 8 will be this season. “We decided not to travel as much, because we don’t have to,” Hanson says. The Thunderbirds will be one of the final eight teams, but there’s a lot of basketball before then. “It’s just a grind out here with 17 teams in Canada West,” Hanson says. “If you have one bad weekend, that could set you back two games.”
Key games: at Saskatchewan Huskies, Nov. 20 and 21
at Victoria Vikes, Jan. 29 and 30
The UBC Thunderbirds already know that they will compete in the 2016 CIS Final 8, held on their campus, but they intend to earn their invitation just like every other team. “It was decisions that I made after reflecting upon the season,” UBC head coach Kevin Hanson says, “to put guys in better positions.”
What is he talking about?
Well, that’s how a team that finished last season with a 14-6 record and eventually in fourth place in the Canada West moved its point guard Jordan Jensen-Whyte to the perimeter where, Hanson says, “he’s a penetrator, a slasher.” Replacing him will be Phil Jalalpoor and A.J. Holloway. The head coach has also tinkered elsewhere, moving Conor Morgan from the wing to the post, where he’ll battle alongside David Wagner to improve what was a relative weakness at rebounding.
The more you listen to Hanson, though, and it’s clear that this was a conscious decision. He says that, “Hosting the national championships and getting that automatic berth, we wanted to make sure that we upgraded.”
Keying and upgrading, and giving guys new roles too. Not many teams have the benefit of knowing that they’re guaranteed to be at the CIS Final 8—though Hanson always prepares for it. He says that, “Every season, it’s been my philosophy to begin thinking of the end.”
Well, the end is near and the endgame is clear. Now enjoy the ride.