Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Calgary Dinos Report from Ben Matchett

Dinos take hoops roadshow to Nation's Capital

3/10/2009 12:53:31 PM
CALGARY – Perhaps a year in arrears, the University of Calgary Dinos make their seventh excursion in history to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s basketball championship this weekend in search of the school’s first-ever national title in the sport.

Championship website:

Armed with the No. 2 overall seed – the highest ranking for Calgary at the tournament since their No. 1 billing back in 1976 – the Dinos face the Quebec champion Concordia Stingers in the first game of the Final 8 at Scotiabank Place in Kanata, Ont. with tip-off at 12:30 p.m. local / 10:30 a.m. MT (webcast by SSN Canada via the championship website and

It is Calgary’s first trip to the show since 2004, when the Canada West champions knocked off McMaster in the quarterfinal before bowing out to eventual national champion Carleton 69-67. Just one player remains from that 2004 team – backup guard Lindsay Thouret – and the team that will hit the floor in Ottawa is vastly different from the ’04 edition that visited Halifax.

The 2008-09 season has been one of redemption for the Dinos. After posting an 18-4 record last year, the program’s best in 30 years, Calgary dominated archrival Alberta in the Central Division Final and earned the right to host the Canada West Final Four. In front of a sold-out Jack Simpson Gym with an undefeated record at home and needing a win to advance to the Final 8, the Dinos fell 77-69 to UBC in the conference semi-final.

A bronze medal loss to Brandon the following day ended Calgary’s chance at the wild card, and the team swallowed the bitter pill of watching the Final 8 on television after being ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation. To add insult to injury, the Alberta Golden Bears – who Calgary had so convincingly defeated the previous weekend – qualified as the second Canada West entrant in Ottawa.

The heartbreaking home loss served as motivation in the off-season for the Dinos, who returned this season with a renewed sense of purpose.

“Every team that is successful has to go through a lesson prior to achieving any success, and that’s what happened to us last year,” said ninth-year head coach Dan Vanhooren, who makes his second trip to the Final 8. “Last year the guys were looking past the Final Four, and all the expectation last year was causing us some problems. We’ve done a better job of keeping focused on the moment this year and that’s been a great lesson moving forward. With the talent we have, if we keep them where they need to be mentally, we can be successful.

“The outcome last year weighed on them so much that it froze them up a bit. We got wrapped up in the result and didn’t focus on the process and the things that got us there, and it’s our responsibility as coaches to make sure we get them past that.”

Calgary boasts a rare talent in fifth-year forward Henry Bekkering, whose Internet notoriety has continued to blossom since transferring to Calgary from Eastern Washington prior to the 2006-07 season. The elder Bekkering is best known for his high-flying dunks – even interviewed for a Sports Illustrated feature on the subject last year – but he has demonstrated this season that he is about much more than the flush. At six-foot-six, 235 pounds, the athletic specimen is a match-up nightmare for opposing teams, and he finished fourth in Canada West scoring with 20.2 points per game on the season – most notably a 41-point outburst at Alberta.

“It’s really too bad that Henry is seen only as a dunker, just because that’s something he’s really good at doing,” said Vanhooren. “For a guy who averages 20 points and seven rebounds, he has All-Canadian numbers, and for the last two years all the expectation about winning around our program has been because he joined the lineup.

“He hasn’t really gotten his due as a great basketball player, and I think this tournament is a good chance for him to showcase his talents. I only hope that he plays as well as he can so that everyone can see what he’s capable of. He did that at Canada West, and that’s why we won.”

The Bekkering name is synonymous with basketball in Southern Alberta, with four of the five siblings out of W.R. Meyers High School having suited up for the Dinos. Older sisters Anna and Cory paved the way with the Calgary women’s squad, and Ross Bekkering, the fourth sibling, committed to the Dinos directly out of high school. Henry followed in 2006 after a two-year stint in the NCAA and only the youngest, Janelle, elected not to follow in the family footsteps to the University of Calgary. Instead, she is on a scholarship at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

The chance to play with his younger brother was key in Henry’s decision to transfer to Calgary, and the Bekkering boys will share the stage one last time in Ottawa. Ross had a season worthy of All-Canadian status, averaging a double-double and landing on the Canada West first all-star team. He led the conference in field goal percentage and was second in rebounds, becoming the University of Calgary’s all-time rebounding leader midway through the season.

“Ross is a steadying influence because he’s always there and always reliable,” said Vanhooren. “You know you’re going to get 11 or 12 rebounds out of Ross and you know he’s going to do some good things defensively, especially with his defensive rebounding ability. Offensively he can explode for bigger numbers, and he has great basketball skill for a big man. He can handle the ball, he can shoot the three, and his versatility makes him our everybody man.”

Rounding out the ‘Big Three’ up front is fourth-year senior Robbie Sihota out of Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. The team’s minutes-played leader at just under 31 per night, Sihota provides a different look to the Calgary offence with his shooting ability. He averaged better than 16 points per game and is clutch in pressure situations, scoring the game-winning buzzer-beater in a non-conference tilt with Ottawa in December. Sihota followed that up with a monster three-ball as the shot clock wound down late in Calgary’s 80-76 win over UBC in the conference final, sealing the victory.

Point guard Jamie McLeod signed on this season after last year’s starter Jeff Price left the team midway through the summer. McLeod had a stellar career at SAIT in Calgary (CCAA), earning two first-team ACAC all-star nods. He took two years off basketball to attend the University of Victoria before joining the Dinos this season. McLeod provides a veteran, steady presence on the floor and headlines the Dinos’ point-guard-by-committee system that includes significant minutes for Thouret and import freshman Andy Rochon. Sophomore Tyler Fidler, a six-foot-nine shooting guard who was the Canada West rookie of the year last season, rounds out the starting five for Calgary.

Rookie Dominyc Coward plays the sixth man role, scoring 6.4 per night in his freshman season in just over 14 minutes per game off the bench.

Heading into the Final 8, Vanhooren has his team playing some of its best basketball of the season – but consistency and execution on both ends of the floor will be the key if Calgary is to advance deep into the tournament.

“I think we need to focus on ourselves this weekend,” said Vanhooren. “Studying video of other teams will be more about overall trends – do they press, do they play primarily man defence – and outside of that it’s going to be more about how we execute our own stuff.

“Concordia is completely different than us. They’re a shooting team, they’re quick, and they have a number of things going for them that could cause us some problems. But as long as we take care of the ball and we play the way we have been, the outcome will take care of itself. The whole thing is focusing on the first quarter and even the first four minutes of the first quarter.”

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