Gil Cheung didn’t feel he had an opportunity to completely put his stamp on the Brandon Bobcats last season.
The head coach of the BU men’s basketball team was hired late in May and didn’t get enough time to recruit all the players he wanted.
That is not the case this season. Cheung and his staff have been busy recruiting high school and import players for the last 12 months, which has led to 10 brand new players joining four Bobcats returnees.
"I think with the whole year being able to recruit from all of July last year to now, we’ve landed some of the impact players that we’ve been looking for," Cheung said. "No disrespect to the guys we brought in last year, I thought they did a more than admirable job against the competition in Canada West. But in order for us to get over the hump and move in the right direction, we have to make a couple changes."
After getting off to a 4-6 start last season, the Bobcats lost their last 14 games to finish with a 4-20 record, a stunning slide for a program that was long considered one of the best in the country.
Two of the new recruits Cheung expects to stand out this season are Americans Ilarion Bonhomme Jr. and Eric Schippers.
Bonhomme, who is from Washington, D.C., redshirted with Brandon last season and is expected to run the team’s offence at point guard.
The 5-foot-11 Bonhomme, who Cheung believes will provide an improvement on last year’s point-guard-by-committee, is champing at the bit to step on the hardwood for the Bobcats.
"I thought I was ready to play last year, but I worked hard over the summer and got a little bit better, so I want to see what I’ve got," Bonhomme said prior to Bobcats practice Wednesday at the BU gym.
Meanwhile, Eric Schippers, a Kingston, Wash., native, is also expected to make a large impact on the team, even though Cheung calls him the exact opposite of Bonhomme. At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Cheung hopes Schippers will be a force under the basket at both ends of the court.
Despite having three years of college basketball experience in the United States, and only four players returning to the Bobcats, Schippers isn’t sure whether he will step into a leadership role this season.
"Because I’m still an incoming guy, even if I have numerous years of experience in the States, it’s still a new program and I’m entitled to the same responsibilities that come with being a rookie," he said. "I don’t feel any different from a first-year guy coming in.
"I think I can help maturity-wise because I’ve been around the block now and I have a feeling for how the college game works, but that can be said of a lot of people. It’s just one of those things where I fell into it and I’m going to run with it the best I can. I want to be a leader, but I’ll fill in any position that needs to be filled in."
Now that his new players are in place and have been practising for a few weeks, Cheung is preaching defence. He is not overly concerned with offence at this point, planning to give his players lots of freedom on the court and believes they will have ample opportunities to put the ball in the bucket.
Cheung hopes the changes will result in more wins this season. However, he’s not expecting the men’s basketball program to turn around completely this season, particularly with the youth on his roster.
"On paper and on the court I like the way the guys are competing and that’s all we’re focusing on," Cheung said. "A couple more wins or 15 out of 20 wins would be great, but we have to take baby steps here and we’re still trying to get to know each other. But I like what we’re seeing so far."
The Bobcats, who don’t tip off the Canada West regular season until Nov. 5 against the Calgary Dinos, will begin their exhibition schedule by playing their annual alumni game Sept. 30 at the BU gym.
BOBCATS MEN’S BASKETBALL ROSTER:
Player Position Height Year Home
Ilarion Bonhomme Guard 5-11 1 Washington, D.C.
James Elias Centre 6-11 3 Morden
Jamar Farley Guard 6-2 1 Winnipeg
Donovan Gayle Forward 6-4 5 Toronto
Alex Klocek Guard 6-4 1 Coquitlam, B.C.
Pacome Matula Guard 6-2 2 Montreal
Ali Mounir Forward 6-5 1 Montreal
Player Position Height Year Home
Chris Oppong Guard 6-0 1 Brampton, Ont.
Emerick Ravier Guard 6-2 4 Ottawa
Jordan Reaves Forward 6-4 3 Winnipeg
Eric Schippers Forward 6-8 4 Kingston, Wash.
Turrell Scott Guard 6-5 1 Coquitlam, B.C.
Michael Smith Guard 6-1 2 Brampton, Ont.
Kyle Vince Forward 6-4 5 Winnipeg
Head coach: Gil Cheung.
Assistants: Jeremy Wielenga, Ritchie Jacobson.