There’s a quiet confidence brewing in the locker room of the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team.
While other Canada West coaches don’t have high hopes for the Bobcats — ranking them 11th out of the 16 teams in the conference — BU players feel they will surprise a few people this season and secure a playoff spot.
Head coach Gil Cheung admits there are still a few kinks for the Bobcats, who posted a 2-6 pre-season record, to work out, but he has faith that this squad can reach the post-season for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
"Everyone has the same goal every year: To make the playoffs and try to make a run at things," Cheung said. "Our job is to try and get things better each and every week. I think we showed glimpses this past weekend, but we’re not quite there yet. We’re a work in progress, but I think we have the pieces to be a pretty strong team."
Most of the players from last year’s squad, which finished sixth in the Prairie Division with a 7-13 record, are back this year and will be captained by fourth-year forward Jordan Reaves and second-year guard Ilarion Bonhomme, who was named Canada West’s rookie of the year last season.
Second-year forward Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak, rookie guard Kenonte Ramsey and fourth-year forward James Elias are expected to join them in Friday’s starting lineup against the Alberta Golden Bears.
It’s not just the starting five — which will likely change after fourth-year forward Isaiah James and fifth-year guard Emerick Ravier recover from their leg injuries — that gives Reaves faith in his teammates. He likes how deep Brandon’s bench is.
"We definitely have a lot more depth than last year," he said. "We have some more experience. Turrell (Scott, a first-year forward) has been working on his game a lot. Alex (Klocek, a second-year guard) has been working on his game and has lots of experience, too. Once Emerick’s back and Isaiah’s back, we’ll have a good nine, 10 guys."
The Bobcats will have some size this season, but they are also athletic.
Cheung expects that will be difficult for teams to defend, and he wants his players to pride themselves on their own defensive play.
There are two things the Bobcats wants to avoid this year: Falling behind in the playoff race to put themselves in must-win situations down the stretch like last season, as well as playing a full 40 minutes, which they have struggled to do during the pre-season. Reaves believes building on the team’s chemistry will be the key to succeeding in those two areas.
"We need to build our chemistry and a little more focus in practice," he said. "We just need to start leaving it on the floor every game for every quarter. It seems like we start off really strong and finish really strong, it’s just the middle part of the game that’s killing us right now."
The Bobcats will have their hands full in their season-opener on Friday. The Golden Bears are the defending Canada West champions and were runners up to the Carleton Ravens at nationals last season. They also come into this season as the second-ranked team in the conference’s pre-season coaches poll, behind only the UBC Thunderbirds.
Cheung knows it will be tough to start the year on a winning note, but he doesn’t want to worry about comparing his squad to the other top teams just yet.
"It’s going to be a challenge for us and we’re looking forward to that challenge," he said. "We’re not judging ourselves by Alberta or UBC or UVic, it’s a chance for us to play together and get better. It’s not an easy place to go into to start the season, but our guys will be focused and we’ll give it a good run."