It’s not often a bitter taste could lead to more hunger, except in sports. Last year, the Thunderbirds finished fifth overall in the Canada West (CW) standings after losing to West coast rivals, the University of Victoria Vikes, in the conference semi-finals.
The off-season saw the departure of five veterans, leaving the T-Birds to do some restructuring to their roster. The team welcomed two CW versatile vets, Fareed Shittu and Micah Jessie, both of whom made the move from the UNBC Timberwolves over the summer. The team also recruited highly scouted, 6’7” sharpshooter, Adam Olsen to their squad.
With these new faces playing heavy minutes, it took some time for the team to figure out its identity and playstyle. The ‘Birds showed some bright moments in the first few games, but some inconsistencies in their overall team play led to a 4–4 start to the season. They would win their next two games before the holiday season and, coming out of the break, they continued their winning streak, sweeping the next four series. An ill-timed series split dropped the Thunderbirds down to tied for fifth in the conference, but they remain ranked fifth nationally.
“We're finding our stride and the momentum is happening when we need it,” said Brian Wallack, the team’s captain.
Wallack has remained a constant presence during his tenure with the Thunderbirds. Entering his final year of eligibility, he jumped up in team statistics last year and has continued to build on that this season. Known for owning the paint with his size, Wallack currently leads the team in scoring and rebounds, averaging 18.9 points along with 9.5 rebounds. On top of that, of those rebounds, he’s pulling in, on average, over three on the offensive end, giving him the second spot league-wide in that category.
Yet, what’s not measured on stat sheets is Wallack’s leadership in the locker room, which can be even more important than numbers.
“There's a lot of younger guys on this team and a lot of newer guys too,” he said. “So, in those early times, I was doing a lot of things to try to get everyone on the same page and showing everyone how UBC implements their basketball culture and structure and the different habits that go on here.”
As the season has progressed, it appears to have paid off as the unit has looked stronger as each game has gone on. Shittu looks incredibly comfortable at both ends of the floor, while Jessie’s playmaking presence has continued to dictate more and more of each game. Not to mention, Olsen’s 17 points in 6 minutes against top conference rival, the University of Manitoba Bisons, was a tremendous example of what he could accomplish during his journey as a T-Bird. Additionally, six different players have netted over a hundred points this season.
“On teams that have a lot of scorers, a lot of the time the ball doesn’t move too well because it gets stuck in one person’s hand. That is completely not the case with our team,” Wallack said about the team’s strengths. “We’re always looking for the best possible shot and getting the best possible opportunities.”
The ‘Birds are looking even better than at the beginning of the season and the team only continues to improve game after game. The team has a few more weeks of regular season play before playoffs, but it should be a very exciting time as the Thunderbirds have proven they can bout with the best and are looking to make some noise.