Brandon University Bobcats head coach Novell Thomas has proven that he will recruit any women’s basketball players in Westman who he believes can develop to play at the Canada West level.
Thomas announced his first group of local recruits on Thursday with the signings of Brandon’s Stephanie Hunter, Boissevain’s Kinsley Ransom and Hamiota’s Kailan and Keegan Robinson.
Committing to a team came as a huge relief for Hunter, who was torn between playing volleyball and basketball at the university level.
The 17-year-old Brandonite had a lot of success in both sports this past season. In the end, it was basketball — where the 6-foot-2 forward averaged a double-double and helped the Crocus Plainsmen reach the AAAA provincial tournament — that won out.
"That was a hard decision, but something just made me think basketball," said Hunter, who was named a provincial volleyball graduating all-star. "Finally I just picked my sport and the offer came along from Brandon and I didn’t see anything bad about coming here. It’s a great option. It’s almost like coming to (high) school. I live at home and it will be a lot less on costs."
Like Hunter, Ransom grew up a Bobcat fan and dreamed of having a chance to play for the team. She realized she had potential to play basketball at the university level four years ago when she made a provincial team as a 13-year-old.
Since then, the 6-foot-0 post, who loves to play defence, has helped the Boissevain Broncos win three straight provincial AA basketball championships — one junior varsity and two varsity — and she was named tournament MVP at all three events.
"I kind of thought I had a shot," said Ransom, who was first identified by Thomas during a Team Manitoba tryout last year. "… If I could have got to (play basketball) anywhere, I would want to go. Staying close to home was what I wanted to do, so it worked out well."
The Robinson twins also bring championship experience with them, having guided the Hamiota Huskies to back-to-back provincial A high school titles. Both were named to the tournament all-star team.
The 5-foot-10 players hope to bring some speed and agility to the Bobcats and are happy that they’ll get up to five more years of playing together on the basketball court.
"It’s nice for me," said Kailan, who also plays soccer, volleyball and hockey and runs cross-country and track. "To have someone you know when you’re going into something so big compared to Hamiota, it’s good to have her with me and cool to have her on the court with me."
"Hopefully it will be a good thing," added Keegan, who, along with her sister, was named a Manitoba graduating volleyball all-star. "Hopefully it will make us better. We play really well together so hopefully it will be a challenge for other teams."
Thomas’s main focus in recruiting this off-season is to make the team bigger and find players who can score.
He sees that in these four, but he will bring in more recruits later.
As for this group, he likes the way they played during their high school seasons, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to get much playing time next season.
"I would love to be able to throw them into the fire, but it’s tough to say at this point," he said. "Our season doesn’t officially start for five or six months, and that’s a lot of time for them to develop and get stronger.
"If they coast over the course of the summer, then playing right away isn’t going to be in the cards. If they commit and are dedicated and play over the course of the summer and train hard, there’s the possibility that they may play minutes when we start up exhibition play in October."