Sunday, 27 September 2009

Reworked roster, Moser candidate Charlery keep 'Cats near the top

Second year Head Coach Keith Vassell continues the re-engineering of his Brandon Bobcats as at least 8 new faces arrive in the Wheat City to join a very strong core group led by 6'3" Moser candidate Dany Charlery (Montreal), one of only 4 returnees to the roster. Brandon captured another Great Plains division championship last season before losing in the Canada West semi-final to eventual national finalist UBC and then dropping an 11 point game in the bronze medal game that eliminated Brandon from wild card consideration. Expect Vassell, originally from Scarborough Mother Teresa and an All-Canadian during his playing days in Brandon, to continue to play in the 'Cats tradition of pressing, pushing up on the ball, running and getting all over the offensive glass led by Charlery and company.

Charlery (21.1 ppg/32.5 mpg) once again had an All-Canadian season in 2008-09 despite being the main focus of opposing defenses and can score in a variety of ways, slashing to the rim, pulling up and range well beyond the 3. One of the finest athletes in the CIS, Charlery can carry his team in stretches and grades out as one of the finest Bobcats ever as he enters his fifth and final season.

Great guard play is a staple of Brandon basketball and this season Vassell has the luxury of two above-average point guards beginning with 6'2" fifth-year Tarik Tokar, who averaged about 12 ppg in 33 mpg last season after transfering from Manitoba, setting the table for Charlery and company. Brandon also adds one of the better young points in the country in 6'1" third-year Andrew Kraus (transfer/Acadia) who led the Axemen to that improbable upset of Carleton two seasons ago at the Nationals. Kraus, son of long-time GTA coach George Kraus, as Vassell says, "sets very high standards for himself" and immediately jumps into a strong leadership role for the Bobcats. Kraus, always a very good decision-maker and passer, continues to gain consistency with his jumper and will be a very good complement to Tokar.

Complementing Charlery on the wing is returning 6'4" sharp-shooter Kyle Vince, who has a dangerously-quick release and can heat up when he gets his feet set with a good look at the rim. One other returnee projects as Brandon's defensive stopper: 6'4" Donovan Gayle, a third-year swingman from Markham Milliken Mills, who has a football-type body and uses his strength and athleticism to guard anywhere from the 2 through the 5 where necessary. Gayle starts his second season in Brandon after one season in Maine at an NAIA school.

With 6'0" Rejean Chabot (17.4 ppg/30 mpg) still with the program but sitting out this season and a number of players from last season not returning, Vassell hit the recruiting trail hard and the results were tremendous, beginning with a pair of U.S. imports. In slender 6'7" Kyrie Coleman (Cardosa H.S./Washington D.C.), the 'Cats get a swing forward with length and athleticism who can guard wings and posts and loves transition. Fortifying the backcourt is 6'1" freshman Terril Thomas from Chicago, a 25 year old who has been out of high school for several years and expects to make an immediate impact for Brandon. The 'Cats also welcome back 6'6" Martin Lawrence who returns after playing his first season with Brandon in 2007-08. Vassell compares Lawrence, who will be in the rotation as a 4 man, to another former GTA star, Oliver Prince , with his stocky build and explosiveness around the rim.

Two more outstanding athletes will likely contribute beginning with 6'6" Jordan Reaves (Winnipeg Shaftsbury), who Vassell believes is one of the best pure athlete in the CIS already as a freshman. Reaves continues to get comfortable with his game but has already flashed some big-time potential and instincts in pre-season practices. 6'0" freshman Jelani Deliovsky is a slasher who can create and knock shots down and comes from a prominent high school program, Hamilton St. Mary's, where he played for former Mac Marauder Jamie Girolametto.

Vassell is also very high on 6'11" freshman James Elias, who grew up on a farm near Morden, MB and has shown dramatic improvement in the first month of his university career. Elias is long, lanky and should initially provide shot-altering and rebounding on the defensive end. The very coachable Elias appears to be a quick learner and the mental toughness he's shown thus far could accelerate his time to significant minutes.

Brandon's strength again is at the guard and wing spots which will allow Vassell to play the up tempo brand of basketball he would like. How far the Bobcats rise in the national rankings and how well they do at the end of the season could be predicated on the development of their bigs in Lawrence, Coleman, Elias and others. Regardless, Brandon will likely again be a Top 10 team all season long.

The 'Cats have a pair of early season games against Lakehead before hosting their own Super 8 tournament in mid-October which features the T-Wolves plus a pair of Manitoba CCAA teams: Red River College and Christian Mennonite University. At Christmas, Brandon will travel to Montreal to participate in the UQAM tournament, a fitting way to Charlery's fifth and final season.

The Bobcats have an alumni site on Facebook which discusses the team and reports that Brandon's Alumni team defeated this season's 'Cats 104-76 earlier this month.

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