Training camp has just started, but Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak is already in mid-season form and ready to lead the way for the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team.
After recovering from a broken clavicle he suffered midway through last season, the 25-year-old power forward from Montreal spent the bulk of the summer playing for the Algerian national team overseas. The stint with his former country — Benabdelhak was born in Algeria and moved to Canada with his family when he was nine — helped him get into game shape after his season-ending injury and gave him priceless experience playing with and against professional-calibre players from around the world.
"It helped me a lot because it was a high level of basketball," Benabdelhak said during a break in Bobcats camp on Monday afternoon at BU’s Healthy Living Centre. "I played with professional players, NBA players, so I got good experience and I can help my team with this experience. I’m much better, I’m in shape ... Last year I broke my clavicle and I’ve had time to recover since January. It feels much better and I am ready to play and help my team."
In his third summer with the Algerian national team program, the 6-foot-6, 192-pound Benabdelhak competed at the Mediterranean Games in Turkey and later travelled to Nigeria before returning to the Wheat City to prepare for the upcoming Canada West conference season.
Bobcats head coach Gil Cheung believes Benabdelhak’s summer experience will help him take on a leadership role in his third season at BU.
"For sure, it’s another good experience playing international basketball and he has definitely matured throughout the years here and we’re looking for big things from him this year and some leadership qualities as well," said Cheung, whose team will tip off its exhibition schedule by hosting the Minot State Beavers this Friday at BU’s HLC at 7 p.m.
"(Benabdelhak) is such a quiet guy around us, but you can just see how motivated he is. And there is that calming thing about him that he has played so much basketball over the summer that he’s brought back so much experience and we’re going to feed off of that."
Benabdelhak, who was the Bobcats’ leading scorer and rebounder when he was lost for the season with nine games remaining, is one of three starters finally back to full strength. The Bobcats begin the year with former scoring leader Emerick Ravier back after the slick-shooting guard sat out all of last season due to reconstructive knee surgery, while 6-foot-7 American forward Isaiah James is finally back to full health after suffering a serious ankle injury just prior to training camp a year ago.
"Everybody is ready to go," said Cheung, who has 11 veterans back and four recruits in camp. "We missed probably 60 per cent of our offensive firepower and probably one of the best big men defensively in the conference (in James), so we’re looking forward to just having a healthy roster and seeing what we can do."
After missing the playoffs last season with a 6-16 record, Benabdelhak said the Bobcats are determined to be a playoff team this year.
"We’re really, really hungry," said Benabdelhak, who averaged 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season. "Last year was like a bad year and it’s not going to happen two times and this year we’re really hungry and we’ll make the playoffs this year ... We’re really excited to start that first game and see what happens."