Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brandon Bobcats Preview

For the first time in decades last season, the Bobcats did not participate in the post-season, owing to a Canada West record of 7-13.  In a season that started with an injury to their top player 6'3" Dany Charlery, who has since graduated, and later saw several un-Brandon-like efforts, former Bobcat All-Canadian Keith Vassell resigned after the season with another former Bobcat player, Gil Cheung taking over.  Cheung has just 6 players returning from last season's roster, losing 'Cats top 3 scorers and regulars Charlery, Tarik Tokar and Andrew Kraus.  Brandon must improve their rebounding (-6.3 rebounding margin per game last season) and tighten up their "d" (opponents shot 47%).  Cheung has brought in at least 6 new faces including at least three who are likely to start and/or get major minutes.

Brandon historically has had a roster full of Greater Toronto and more recently Montreal athletes augmented by top American talent with some of the better local Manitoba players sprinkled in.  Cheung appears to be sticking to a mould that has been successful for two decades with no fewer than five GTA grads and one Montrealer on this season's roster in addition to a pair of Americans, one with potentially huge impact on the program.

Judging by highlights from his season's at San Jose Junior College, 6'8" Isaiah James could immediately become an impact player in Canada West with his ability to run the floor, attack the offensive glass and disrupt shots inside with his shot blocking ability.  James, who at 26 years old had has clock run out on playing NCAA Division 1 basketball, was an all-conference choice in his final year in San Jose and expect him to lead the Bobcats from the front court.  Fellow 6'8" American Kyrie Coleman returns from last season's group, when he started 10 of 20 league games, averaging 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.  Coleman is a long wing with solid perimeter skills who should come off the bench as a 3/4.  Another high-potential big man is 6'10" sophomore James Elias, a big strong sponge of a learner who has his best days ahead of him as he continues to gain exposure to a higher calibre of play he didn't see as a high school player in rural Manitoba.  Elias has progressed enough to be slated as a solid backup for James at the five spot.

Guard play has always been a strength for the 'Cats and with the return to the program of 6'1" Montrealer Nathan Grant, now in his fourth season after sitting out last year, Brandon gets a mobile, experienced guard who began with the program in 2005-06 as a freshman.  Grant, who has Nationals tournament experience from the 'Cats last visit to Halifax, should start at the point.  6'4" fourth year guard Donovan Gayle (6.8 ppg/19 mpg last season) also returns as a strong, mobile wing who can defend equally well in the post and on the perimeter and can get up and down.  Gayle, who is firmly in the rotation as the likely first wing off the bench, was instrumental in the transfer from Algoma College of a probable starter:  6'2" O'Brian Wallace, also originally from Toronto area and a childhood friend of Gayle's.  Wallace should brings offense (16 ppg last season) and allow Cheung some options defensively.  Another Toronto area product, 6'3" William Caesar, a freshman point guard from Markham, ON via Rend Lake College in Illinois where he redshirted last season, should be in the mix at the lead guard spot once he returns from a knee injury he is currently nursing.

A couple of returning forwards/wings should see time including 6'4" fourth-year shooter Kyle Vince (6.9 ppg/16.5 mpg last season) who is Brandon's top returning three-point shooter, making 37% of his shots from downtown last season.  Expect Vince to start at the three spot, joined in the starting lineup by 6'4" second-year four-man Jordan Reaves from Winnipeg, who had a productive freshman season, getting 13 league starts and averaged 20 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg.

Cheung expects another GTA product 6'2" Jimi Falana, a combo guard from Brampton D'Youville, to progress into a solid rotation guy at the point while 6'2" David Antwi, originally from Brampton before studying at Carleton but not playing, should also support in the backcourt.

After redshirting last season, 6'1" Kevin Oman, a true point guard from Winnipeg Collegiate, appeared ready to contribute immediately but has missed significant time in camp with a shoulder injury but he should be ready to go in a week or so.

Expect an up tempo team that presses and runs looking to take advantage of some serious athleticism.  Guard play, especially which players step up to offset the losses of Charlery, Tokar and Kraus, will be key.  But Brandon must improve on their rebounding and defense to get their running game going to work back into the playoff mix this season.

The Bobcats have had one scrimmage thus far against local college team, Assiniboine College, a program in their very first year slated to play in the Manitoba college league this season.  Brandon gets their first taste of CIS action tonight against the host Saskatchewan Huskies at the Graham Construction Shootout in Saskatoon where Bobcats forward Isaiah James renews his rivalry with Huskies newcomer Jamelle Barrett after the pair competed against each other in the same junior college conference last season.

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