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God, I'll miss that beard /Image: Emily Wright

God, I’ll miss that beard /Image: Emily Wright

The Cougars men’s basketball team is looking to prove themselves

Article: Matt Wincherauk – Contributor

It will be a year of change for the University of Regina Cougars men’s basketball team, but the players are coming at this season with great optimism and energy, according to forward Travis Sylvestre.

Sylvestre was gracious enough to give some insight into how the team has come together this year from the perspective of a second-year player.

The Cougars had a bit of a turbulent summer this off-season, as they lost long-time head coach James Hillis to retirement. This led to former assistant coach Steve Burrows getting the call to be the Cougars’ first new head coach in 19 years.

While Hillis’ retirement was an unexpected announcement for many players on the team, they are excited to have a familiar face as their new bench boss.

“We will definitely miss Coach Hillis,” said Sylvestre. “He was a great coach and had a great career here. At the same time, it’s really fresh and exciting to have Coach Burrows this year. Coach Burrows knows the game inside and out and has been able to connect with everyone on the team.”

Staying within the team to find a replacement should prove to be a smart decision, as Burrows knows the players and the team culture well. Having been an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, he also knows the University of Regina very well. It’s always tough transitioning from a long-tenured coach, but the players on the team appear to be on board to prove that Burrows was the right hire.

The starting five were varied throughout the pre-season, but during the opening regular season games on Friday and Saturday, the starting lineup included fourth-year player Brendan Hebert at point guard, fourth-year Darius Mole at shooting guard, second-year player Sylvestre at small forward, third-year Will Tallman at power forward and third-year Wesley Jones at center.

The starting lineup has some strong veteran experience, which will be key going forward, especially with a rookie head coach at the helm.

Despite a solid returning player core, with every new season comes change. Although the men’s team lost a couple of key players to graduation, their vacancies also leave room for younger players to be called upon to step up and prove themselves.

“From last year, I think most of all we are going to miss Paul Gareau,” Sylvestre said. “He was a really strong player and a huge presence out there on the court. He was also one of the best teammates I ever played with; he is just a good person.”

[pullquote]“Obviously we are coming into this season with a lot of changes but that isn’t an excuse. We are young but we are hungry and capable to put a dent into this league. We will be leaving everything on the court every night, and hopefully come March, we are in a good position.” [/pullquote]

Gareau was a great veteran presence for the Cougars, having played with the team for five years. He was also the team’s leading scorer and shot 65 per cent from the field last year.

As for replacements, Sylvester is optimistic about the younger players.

“We have a lot of rookies who are expected to perform highly,” he said. “In the post, we are lacking some size, so the guys we do have are really expected to make a difference on the glass and defensively. Overall the entire team is held accountable to work hard every time we are on the court.”

It is definitely going to have to be a team effort all around by the Cougars, and the rookies as well as second-year players will be asked to contribute early in their CIS careers.

As for expectations on how the year will go, after two consecutive years missing the post season, everyone is hoping for the team to make it back to the playoffs this year.

“Expectations as a team this year are to be the best team we can be,” Sylvester said. “Obviously we are coming into this season with a lot of changes but that isn’t an excuse. We are young, but we are hungry and capable to put a dent into this league. We will be leaving everything on the court every night, and hopefully come March, we are in a good position.”

This is a team with a ton of talent, and it will be all about how they put those talents to use on the court. Cougars fans can expect nothing but good things from a team this talented and coached by such a well-regarded bench boss as Steve Burrows. By the time March rolls around, we should see the Cougars contending for a playoff spot.

We will be leaving everything on the court every night, and hopefully come March, we are in a good position.” – Travis Sylvester /Image: Arthur Ward

We will be leaving everything on the court every night, and hopefully come March, we are in a good position.” – Travis Sylvester /Image: Arthur Ward

The Cougars showed their potential last Friday night, when they scored a 78-72 upset victory over the No. 8-ranked UBC Thunderbirds. This was the first game played under the direction of Burrows, and the boys made him proud.

After leading by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, the Cougars fought off a late push by the visitors, which saw their lead diminish to just five points. But, the Thunderbirds were never able to catch the Cougars, who earned the victory thanks to strong play by numerous members of the team.

Hebert got the ball rolling early and led all players with 23 points, including five three-pointers, while Mole had seven assists to propel the home team to victory.

“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but I thought we had control of this game from the tip-off and I was happy for them to be able to finish this one off,” Burrows said. “These guys have worked incredibly hard since the start of September and it’s great for them to be rewarded with a win to start off the season.”

Catch the Cougars in action during their next home game on Nov.15-16 against the visiting University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

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