Following an uncharacteristically disappointing season, the University of Saskatchewan men’s basketball team is shooting for a bounce-back year.
After missing the Canada West postseason for just the second time in 13 seasons, it’s safe to say no one anticipated the 8–12 record and 13th-place finish the Huskies put forth last season. But the return of a familiar face and the addition of some young talent should have the Dogs in the thick of the playoff race once again.
Arguably the biggest addition to the lineup this year is senior centre Matt Forbes. After missing all of last season with injury, Forbes will be back in the middle where the Huskies need him. Averaging 13 points and four rebounds per game in 2014-15, Forbes should be able to replicate his success on the interior, which the Huskies sorely missed last season.
Aside from his play, his biggest contribution to the team might be his leadership skills. Fourth-year guard Alex Unruh spent his first two seasons playing alongside Forbes and couldn’t say enough about the big man returning to the lineup.
“It’s huge for us. He’s a guy that provides leadership for us, has played in big games and has a ton of experience. He brings toughness and a strong presence in the paint that is tough to replace,” Unruh said. “We feel we have some interior weapons with Matt and Shane [Osayande] that are tough to deal with.”
Perhaps the most intriguing addition is that of 6-5 forward Jaylan Morgan, a native of Brampton, Ont. Spending the past two seasons with the Williston State Tetons of the National Junior College Athletic Association — a collegiate league in North Dakota and Montana — where he averaged 14.7 points per game. The athletic wingman has a nice blend of size, speed and scoring ability that makes him a key factor in the lineup.
Although they’ve only played together for a few weeks, Unruh has been thoroughly impressed with the rookie’s game.
“His combination of size and skill make him tough to defend and he’s another guy that understands the game and plays with a lot of intelligence,” Unruh said. “The biggest thing though is he’s a real team first guy and has been a welcome addition to our locker room. I’ve been really impressed with Jaylan so far.”
The veteran presence is obvious in the Huskies lineup, with fourth-years Unruh and Osayande, as well as fifth-year seniors Trevor Severinski and Forbes, who comprise the starting lineup. Chan de Ciman, Joe Barker and Mack Burns will all provide valuable experience to the lineup as well.
In the spirit of competition, the Huskies hosted their annual pre-season tournament — the Graham Shootout — and were joined by three teams from across Canada for exhibition games over Oct. 21–23. The tournament sees each team play against one another and allows coaches to evaluate their squad before the start of the regular season on Nov. 4.
Saskatchewan easily handled their first two opponents, taking down the Red Deer College Kings 91–70 and the Algoma University Thunderbirds by a score of 83–52.
Their final matchup with the University of Calgary Dinos proved much tougher, as the defending CanWest champs gave the Dogs everything they could handle on home court.
A beastly effort by Osayande kept the Huskies close but it wasn’t enough in the end, falling 74–69 to the Dinos. Osayande led the Huskies with 25 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Unruh chipped in with 14 points, including four three-pointers.
“I was really happy [with] how we played this weekend,” Unruh said. “I think we’ve learned that when we play hard and as well as we know we can, we are capable of competing with anybody.”
It was a nice tune-up for the squad, as this will be their final weekend off before the new season. Getting out of the gates quickly will be key for this team, as they were 0–5 to begin the season last year, en route to their worst finish since 2003. The Huskies will begin their quest for a national championship on Nov. 4 and 5, on the road versus the University of Fraser Valley Cascades.
Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag