After finishing last season with an 11-12 record and losing their last four games, the men’s basketball team is ready to improve as they open their 2018-19 campaign.
It’s already been a successful start for the Gaels, who beat the York Lions 89-76 last weekend and were nationally-ranked 10th on Monday—the first time the team’s cracked the list in over a decade.
The Gaels are led by familiar faces this year with fifth-year brothers Tanner and Jesse Graham. As well, fifth-year Jaz Bains, who scored 37 points against York. will be a familiar presence on the court.
But they’ve also brought in an influx of first year players—six of their roster’s 17 players are rookies.
Having this age disparity is a different dynamic for the program compared to years past, Head Coach Steph Barrie told The Journal in an interview.
“We have a group of returning guys who have been through this and know what to do, and then there are the guys who are learning this for the first time,” Barrie said. “It’s almost like two mini teams.”
Despite the age gap, Barrie sees many advantages to having a roster that boasts youth and experience, and believes this may be the deepest team that he’s coached in a long time.
“We can probably play 12 guys in an important game, which probably hasn’t been the case in the past,” Barrie said. “Experience is one of the most important factors in our league, but the youthful exuberance and energy that some of our young guys have is also important.”
With depth also comes versatility, which Barrie believes will prove as strength for the Gaels this season. Having talented players at every position, Barrie can roll out different lineups from game to game—leaving the door open for more competition at practice.
“I tell guys that if you want to play more, you have to outperform the other people that you are practicing against every day.” Barrie said, adding the Gaels will have a rotating lineup throughout the season. “The players who are practicing the best and playing really well are going to be playing more and maybe start.”
The one thing that will remain constant with the Gaels is their dedication to maintaining a staunch defensive identity.
“We are basing our first foundation on defence to make sure our effort level is where it needs to be on the defensive end,” Barrie said. “And offensively, I think we have been more talented in the past on that side of the floor, but I always feel that it takes care of itself more than the defensive end.”
The Gaels will look to continue their early season success this coming weekend on the road, with games against Western and Windsor. After racking up a few injuries last weekend, the team is set to face one of the first challenges in their young season.
“There are a lot of unique challenges to this weekend that we will see, and I’m excited to see how we do with some of our key guys out,” Barrie said.
The excitement of being nationally-ranked can have some coaches thinking too far ahead. Barrie, however, is more focused on the team’s improvement and how they compete every game.
“[The] reality is we have the next game we are trying to prepare for and the long-term plan for players individually on our team, and [we’re] just trying to plug away at that day to day,” Barrie said. “That’s where I put my focus”.
The Gaels will play their home opener against the Guelph Gryphons on Friday, Nov. 9, opening up a four-game home stand.
With files from Matt Scace
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