Since 1963, only three schools have won at least three straight Canadian university men’s basketball titles, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Brandon University Bobcats accomplishing that feat.
In 1987, the Bobcats ended the run of seven straight titles by the Victoria Vikes and followed it up with two more in 1988 and 1989. Since then, only the Carleton Ravens have created dynasties, winning national titles from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2013.
For any school to dominate the national scene like that is an accomplishment, but it’s even more so for a school of Brandon’s size, which is why everyone who was on those teams still takes a lot of pride in their accomplishments.
Brandonite Doug Carmichael, who teaches at J.R. Reid School, was on all three of those championship teams and even though 25 years has gone by, those years are something that will never escape his memory.
"It was a real special time," he said. "We had a team that really gelled well together and great talent with the many great players that we had with players of the year in Pat Jebbison and John Carson. It was just fun to be part of that time and do my little part and do our part to be successful on those (teams)."
Carmichael is one of five players who were on all three teams, along with Jebbison, Whitney Dabney, Gary Latty and Marvin Russell.
The 6-foot-7 centre, however, saw limited court time while backing up the likes of Dabney, who was a CIAU (now CIS) men’s basketball tournament all-star in all three years the Bobcats won the title, and was named MVP in 1988 before leaving to play professionally after the 1989 championship.
Carmichael had no problem being a role player on those storied teams, as they Bobcats had plenty of talented players. Bobcats head coach Jerry Hemmings built a solid core group of players to lead the team with the likes of Carson, Dabney, Jebbison, Joey Vickery and David Dominique.
Carson, a five-time all-Canadian, was named the CIAU men’s basketball player of the year in 1986 and was the MVP of the 1987 championship tournament. Jebbison was named CIAU player of the year in 1988 and 1989, while Vickery was named MVP in the 1989 tournament.
It was Jebbison who blocked Victoria’s Spencer McKay late in the 1989 final to help secure Brandon’s third straight title with a 74-73 victory. Brandon swept the third-ranked Regina Cougars in the Great Plains conference final to reach that year’s national championship in Halifax, where BU beat the Concordia Stingers 85-73 in the quarter-finals and the Toronto Varsity Blues 85-73 in the semifinals.
Although it was the stars who stole the headlines, Hemmings and Carmichael agree the Bobcats were so successful for so long because everyone knew their roles and played well in them.
"Coach Hemmings, it starts there with his recruiting and fixing a team together that’s going to be successful and having guys stick around for a full five years together," Carmichael said. "That’s when you get a real team that gels. And just having the little components that make a championship team; the chemistry and the scoring and rebounding and the heart that it takes sometimes to push yourself to that next level."
Hemmings is proud that of the five national men’s basketball championships that Manitoba schools have won, Brandon has four of those banners, adding the 1996 title to its collection. The Manitoba Bisons won the province’s other title in 1976.
While Hemmings has fond memories of those championship runs in the 1980s, now he takes the most pride in what his former players have done with their lives over the past 25 years.
"Looking back, the great thing about university coaching is they come in as young guys, or basically boys, and they leave as men," he said. "When I look at those three teams, and I was just looking at team pictures here, I think we had 80 to 85 per cent of every guy who played on that ’87, ’88, ’89 team all graduated.
"Now you look back and the rewarding thing 25 years later is the contributions that they’re making with how they’re impacting kids. We had an impact on their lives and they’re having an impact on others."
Those Bobcat teammates are also still having an impact on each other’s lives. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Bobcat alumni got together and raised more than $4,000 to help Dabney and Eldon Irving, who lived in the area, rebuild their lives. Irving played for BU from 1989 to 1991.
Brandon University’s athletic department honoured those three Bobcat championship teams on Saturday night with a reception after the final men’s basketball home game of the season and helped relive the school’s history by putting up the GPAC championship banners in the Henry Champ Gymnasium on the weekend.
Carmichael was appreciative of the honour, but admits his teammates — who got together in 2005 when they were inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame — need to find a time for another reunion.
"We need to get together, but it’s a great honour to play with all those guys," he said. "It’s special. When we say we’re Bobcats, we mean it along with this current team. We wish them all the success as well."