For the first time in three years, the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team has recruited right here in the Wheat City, and they’ve gone back to a familiar player pipeline to do it.
Neelin Spartans seniors Theo Farough and Isaak Stark have committed to joining the Bobcats this fall, the first local recruits for the program since fellow Neelin graduate Adam Philpott completed his CIS career in 2009-10.
Neither player is expected to make an immediate impact as both are slated to redshirt in their first season, practising but not playing as they make the huge adjustment to the CIS level. But Bobcats head coach Gil Cheung was happy to add some local flavour to his team.
"They both fit the same mold and they are both character kids, hard-working kids and are very strong fundamentally and just bring that work ethic," Cheung said. "And really, to have two local kids fill out our roster and join our program is big for us."
The Bobcats missed out on the last Brandon player to play CIS basketball when Neelin graduate Sterling Nostedt committed to the University of Regina in 1998 and completed his five-year career with the Cougars this spring. But Farough and Stark join a list that includes Philpott and former Spartans scorer Chad Jacobson — who completed his CIS career at BU in 2006-07 — in joining their hometown team.
"It’s been in the back of my mind since the first game I watched in Grade 7, through the probably 100 (Bobcat) games that I’ve watched since then," said Farough, a 6-foot-1 guard/forward who often led the Spartans in both scoring and rebounding this season. "It’s always been in the back of my mind, what if I were out there in one of those uniforms?
"I’m very excited. It’s a whole new atmosphere and something completely different for me. I’ve been going to the practices for a few years now, so I am used to seeing it and now I am actually jumping in and doing it."
While Farough led the Spartans on the offensive end this season, averaging 20.4 points and 13 rebounds per game, Stark’s scrappy play on the defensive end was also key to a team that earned a bronze medal at the provincial AAA varsity boys’ high school championship. The 5-foot-10 guard knows he needs to work hard to develop physically in order to contribute to the team down the road.
"I am definitely going to need to get bigger, stronger and faster," said Stark, who is determined to work hard in the off-season to prepare for his first Bobcats training camp. "I am just going to have to bring my ‘A’ game to practice at that level, because those guys are obviously a lot better than high school players. … I am happy to be a part of a team like that and being able to come in and practise and work to get better, and we’ll see what happens."
Cheung said it’s that work ethic and Stark’s gritty play on the defensive end of the court that has impressed him.
"He’s not a kid you would think would be heavily recruited, but that attitude, that passion and the dedication he brings is something you want from a redshirt, and you definitely want it from a local kid who has grown up loving BU basketball," Cheung said.
"You don’t need 12 guys to score the basketball, you need a team guy, you need chemistry on the team and he is the first one to bust his butt and support his teammates, so we are definitely lucky to have him. He has a skill that we can’t teach and that’s his toughness and his dedication and hard work and his work ethic."
Cheung also loves Farough’s attitude and wants to work with him to make the transition from generally playing in the post in high school to becoming a perimeter player in CIS.
"Theo had a great career at Neelin," Cheung said. "We have been working with him in the summer to expand his game and expand his skill set and it’s something he continually has to add, just based on the fact that he’s no longer one of the bigger, stronger guys in his league. But he will accept that role and the best thing about both him and Isaak is they are gym rats who just love the game."
Farough was also recruited by the likes of Medicine Hat College and Providence University College, where he likely would have received more immediate court time, but chose to bide his time at BU to try to make the jump to the CIS ranks in the future.
"I was kind of looking at three or four schools and in the end, BU just ended up being the best option for me in a lot of ways," said Farough, who knows he has a lot of work ahead of him.
"I need more speed and athleticism and to be more agile out there to compete with guys like (Bobcats point guard) Ilarion (Bonhomme) who are faster than light ... I know it will be a big jump, but it’s one I am confident I can make."
The two local redshirts are the first recruits for Cheung, who hopes to announce a handful more in the coming weeks to join a team that posted a 6-16 record and missed the Canada West playoffs.
"We have four more kids, we’re just waiting for them to get into school, but that should be done in the next 10 days or so," Cheung said. "… Two 6-6 kids, one is a post, one’s a wing. And we have a backup point guard and two shooters (are close to committing). So we have four, maybe five coming in the next little bit here."