Last season, UBC was only 11 seconds away from playing in the national championship.
With the clock winding down, Trinity Western’s Kyle Coston drained a three pointer to propel Trinity into the lead and ultimately end UBC’s hope of playing for their first national title since 1973.
With the 2011-12 season just beginning, UBC has a long way to go if they hope to match the success they had last year, let alone capture a CIS title.
Veteran stars Josh Whyte, Alex Murphy and Brent Malish are gone. Yet for the ‘Birds, replacing those stars is not an issue; the team has five players in their last year of eligibility. What UBC must overcome is that the rest of their roster is young and relatively inexperienced.
On the 14-man squad, UBC will dress 6 rookies and have 8 players who played zero minutes for the blue and gold last season.
“In years gone by, we have been pretty talented in terms of depth,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “One of the problems over the last couple of years was that we weren’t recruiting in that area because we thought we were going to be going to the NCAA and we didn’t want to have kids in the program that were going to have to end their careers early or lose eligibility because of that.”
Despite the infusion of youth, there is an expectation for UBC to succeed this season. The ‘Birds finished 22-4 in conference play last season and in the past four years UBC is an astounding 118-13. The program has flourished under coach Hanson, with back-to-back CIS title appearances in 2009 and 2010, and a perfect 20-0 regular season record in 2006.
“Every year the expectation is to try to win the Canada West, to get to the national championship and to try to win nationals,” said fifth-year guard Nathan Yu.
Yu, along with seniors Doug Plumb, Balraj Baines, Kamar Burke and Graham Bath, will form the nucleus of UBC’s roster, and their experience at the CIS level will be paramount in UBC’s bid to finally capture a gold medal.
In particular, Yu is a player Hanson expects to lead the ‘Birds this season.
“Everybody knows it’s [Yu’s] team and he has to produce for us in order for us to be successful,” said Hanson. “I think as a fifth-year guy you strive to have it as your team and I think that pressure turns into a very positive thing.
“You want that as an athlete, you want to be the guy, and he is going to have to perform well for us, without a doubt, in order for us to be successful.”
Though not a full-time starter last season, Yu was an integral part of the ‘Birds offence, providing a spark from the bench with his deadly three point shooting. His skill on the court got him noticed by Team Canada scouts, and this summer he represented his country at the Universiade Games and the Pan Am Games.
Yu said he and his fellow veteran teammates are prepared to step into a leadership role for the team’s rookies, and despite the challenge of having a team with less depth than past years, he believes the ‘Birds are up for the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the best in the Canada West.
There are four rookies—guards Nakai Luyken and Malcolm Williams, and forwards Mike Lewandowski and David Wagner—that Hanson expects big things from this season.
They have received valuable minutes in the preseason and when the fatigue of the season kicks in, Hanson hopes those minutes will pay dividends, allowing the ‘Birds to rely on their depth rather than having the burden exclusively rest on the shoulders of the veterans.
“Those guys are going to be very valuable to us and they are the future of our program,” Hanson said.
UBC has started their season 2-0 and will be looking for revenge against the Coston-led Trinity Western Spartans Thursday night at 6pm and Saturday night at 7pm at War Memorial Gym.