WINNIPEG -- On Tuesday afternoon, Mike Raimbault sat in the Duckworth Centre's corporate suite watching the team he used to call his own play in the gym he currently calls home.
As the Brandon University Bobcats men's basketball team trudged through a loss to the Lakehead Thunderwolves to open the 44th annual Wesmen Classic, Raimbault was there watching the team he guided just three seasons ago, doing so clad in the garb of the Winnipeg Wesmen, the team he took over this past summer after two years spent plying his trade in the college system of British Columbia and biding his time to get back into the Canadian university ranks.
Even after months of getting used to seeing the Brandon-raised, former Bobcat and coach wearing the red 'W', the juxtaposition still takes some getting used to.
For the past three seasons as a head coach -- two at Northern British Columbia and one as the interim BU coach in 2007-08 -- Raimbault has known nothing but success. He took the Timberwolves to their first ever Canadian college championship last season and coached the Bobcats to a 20-2 conference record before falling short of securing a wild card to the national tournament.
However, this year is different. The Wesmen are 1-9 in the Canada West conference with a roster that is almost a complete overhaul from last year. A handful of Wesmen veterans decided not to return and Raimbault did his best to fill the roster out in late recruiting pushes. It's a new challenge for Raimbault, to say the least.
"The entire off-season was a big challenge," Raimbault said hours before his Wesmen team knocked off the McMaster Marauders 81-65 in its opener last night. "... Obviously a lot of the guys weren't up to the task of really turning things around and some senior guys that I sort of anticipated having a part of what we're doing, made the decision not to be and left us in a bit of a situation where we had to fill some spots where maybe we were counting senior guys being in.
"But, at the same time, it's really given us a chance to clean the slate in some respects and it's definitely made it challenging. But we knew it was going to be that going in."
While some speculated that Raimbault might be a candidate for BU's coaching vacancy in the summer, U of W hired him first and brought him not exactly back home, but close to it. The chance to be back in his home province is not something he's taken for granted, being close to family for good times and bad.
"Earlier this semester, unfortunately I lost my grandmother and so it made it extra special to be back in the province for the five, six months prior to that," he said. "The extra time that we got to spend together was obviously that much more important when something like that happens. So that in itself is pretty important to me."
One of Raimbault's biggest supporters in Winnipeg has been former coach Dave Crook, which might seem surprising until you realize that the two of them have a friendship that has been growing since Raimbault's days as an assistant coach to Barnaby Craddock, himself a former Crook assistant.
"First and foremost, he's been unbelievable in the transition," Raimbault said. "He's always been a mentor and a good friend to me. Just having him here and in-house, you have so many questions ... and he's always there and he's always willing and able to help out in any way. And the fact that we are friends makes it that much easier."