Coming off a disappointing year that saw them go 5-15 and miss the playoffs, the Cougars men’s basketball team is aiming for a bounce back season in 2012-13.
“We didn’t have the greatest year last year. We only had five wins, but we didn’t graduate anyone,” said fifth-year veteran Paul Gareau. “We got a few key pieces back and we picked up a couple good players, so we should be alright.”
With no graduating players last year, this year’s team has already got a head start in terms of on-court chemistry.
“It means we’ve got an extra year of practice under our belt; we’ve got one more year of familiarity with the team,” Gareau said. “We’re just getting to know each other more and more every day.”
The familiarity in the Cougar’s locker room has translated into an increasingly optimistic outlook.
“Especially in our division, it’s really wide open. There’s not one clear-cut favourite who’s going to beat everyone by 40 or whatever,” Gareau said. “There’s competition for sure, but we feel like we’re just as good or better than everyone else in our conference.”
Head Coach James Hillis offered up some cautious optimism as well.
“A couple of the teams that I thought were way out ahead last year have graduated a number of players, so I do think it’s much more wide open this year,” Hillis said. “I think we’ve shown in the past that we can beat anybody…but that said, I think we’re a long ways from being the favourite going into every game.”
The team’s returning veterans worked hard in the off-season to set the tone for the new arrivals, and to ensure that this year’s team is not an easy one to play against.
“The entire team was in the weight room [over the summer],” Hillis said. “We’re noticeably bigger and stronger, and that comes from a veteran leadership group.”
“I would like to make Canada West final four, and then hopefully from there make nationals. That’s the ultimate goal, but just to play to the best of our ability really, and hopefully the results will take care of themselves.” – Paul Gareau
The work ethic put forward by the veterans sets a good example for some of the team’s fresher faces, including standout hometown rookie Travis Sylvestre.
“He’s going to get a lot of playing time this year,” Hillis said of Sylvestre. “I think he’s going to challenge guys for a starting spot even in his first year, which is very rare, and I think he’s going to be a guy that we have great hopes for both this season and long-term.”
Gareau has also been impressed by the rookie.
“He’s actually blocked me a few times in practice, which got under my skin a bit,” he said with a smile. “But yeah, he’s looking real good so far.”
When it comes to the younger players, Gareau said he tries to lead by example.
“I show up, I put my hard hat on, I go to work. I work hard when I’m on the court, and have fun with the guys after practice,” he said. “I’m 24 years old, so I’m kind of older compared to some of these guys. They look up to me, and if I come to practice and slack off and don’t do much off court, then they’ll have bad attitudes. I try to be happy, bring a smile to practice and work hard.”
With just one more year of eligibility in the CIS, Gareau hopes to help the team go the distance in 2013.
“I would like to make Canada West final four, and then hopefully from there make nationals,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal, but just to play to the best of our ability really, and hopefully the results will take care of themselves.”