Gil Cheung can’t wait to have his players return to the Wheat City.
Last year, the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team head coach completely revamped the roster. They produced a 7-13 season, but showed a lot of growth.
Only two members of that squad — fifth-year players Donovan Gayle and Kyle Vince — aren’t returning this season while American forward Eric Schippers isn’t sure yet. The 6-foot-8 Kingston, Wash., native may not return to pursue other studies, or he will red-shirt with the squad.
The large number of returning players makes Cheung’s preparation for the upcoming Canada West season a lot easier.
"(It’s nice) just to have that familiarity with what we’re trying to do in our program and just being familiar with the guys on our team and what they bring to the team," Cheung said.
"They know what’s expected. We know what’s expected of them and the communication and the connections we made through last year, it puts us a step ahead of where we were last year just because we have that one year under belts."
Cheung didn’t have a lot of roster spots to fill with recruits, but he added a few players this summer. Isaiah James, a 6-foot-7 forward from San Jose, Calif., returns to Brandon after a one year absence.
Cheung also brought in Montrealers Peterson Suffard, a 6-foot-7 forward, and Jude Molin, a 6-foot-4 swingman, to round out the roster.
Only two players stayed in Brandon during the off-season. Emerick Ravier, who’s heading into his final year of eligibility, stayed to rehabilitate his right knee after having reconstructive surgery earlier this year. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season.
Point guard Ilarion Bonhomme also remained in the Wheat City and has been training with Cheung for the last six weeks.
The other players are expected to be in Brandon by the middle of next week and Cheung is anxious to start team-building exercises.
"That’s the big thing is when you come together there’s a honeymoon period where everyone’s excited to catch up," he said.
"… As coaches, we’re excited because we figure we have a lot of the key pieces to have some success this year and build on last year."
Meanwhile, new women’s basketball coach Novell Thomas has had an educational summer.
Thomas, who replaced Ritchie Jacobson in April, has travelled a lot, learned a lot while talking to basketball people throughout Western Canada and trying to become involved in the community so people can get to know him.
He also recruited four new players to join the 10 returning Bobcats.
Maegan MacKay, a 5-foot-9 wing, and Ambrea McDonald-Okoro, a 6-foot-0 post, are both from Regina, while Elsa Langill, a 5-foot-10 forward/guard, is coming in from Kamloops, B.C..
Carrera Lamoureux, a 5-foot-6 point guard, is transferring from Canadian Mennonite University and will add a bit of experience. Thomas hopes to have one more recruit, another point guard, join the squad.
He was disappointed that he couldn’t land an import for the upcoming season.
Thomas also wasn’t able to add a lot of experience to the young team, which will be without Raisa Rybinski for at least the first half of the season. The fifth-year guard/forward tore her ACL while training this summer.
Thomas, however, likes the players the Bobcats have.
"I’d love to have more (experience), but at the same time I’m bringing in players who want to prove themselves," he said. "You get a lot out of players who want to prove themselves. They’re hungry to play. I don’t want to say experience is over-rated because experience usually wins out, but we just have to be smart about how we do things. Since we are more inexperienced, it means I’ll have to do more work on the teams we will be playing."
The Bobcats, who went 0-20 last year, held a few practices during the summer and won’t get together until September.
Thomas can’t wait for the team to reunite.
"I’m anxious to get into the flow and the routine," he said. "With it being my first year not only as a coach but an instructor, I just want to make sure I’m prepared for both so the players and students can excel and do well."