On March 6, the UBC men’s team suffered a devastating defeat against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The loss not only put UBC out of contention for the Canada West title, it rendered them ineligible for the CIS Final 8 Tournament.
Some weeks have passed, and with the season now behind us, it's time to look back on the year that was. Below are some of the highlights from the 2014/15 campaign; and I would feel unjust beginning with anything other than:
Tommy Nixon’s performance
That Tommy Nixon was not named Canada West’s Outstanding Player of the Year is robbery, in my opinion. It is difficult to imagine what UBC’s season may have looked like without Nixon steering the ship. In his final year of play, Nixon was the engineer behind UBC’s number one ranked offence. He led the team in points per game, free throws made, field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage, steals, rebounds and minutes played. He was Canada West’s most prolific scorer, averaging 20.8 points per game, and was recently recognized as one of the top players in the nation after being named a Canada West First Team All-Star and a Second Team CIS All-Canadian.
Awful start, valiant finish
After starting the season 1-5, I, like many others, began to question the fabric of this team. More distressing than their record was the fashion in which they suffered each of their first five losses: the team had no fight; they looked timid; opponents bullied them into humble submission. Ironically, the turnaround came against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in late November. After sweeping the Huskies in a two game series UBC caught fire, winning 11 of their next 12 games to finish the year 14-6 and take the third seed in Canada West. The cool confidence the ‘Birds exuded as they concluded their regular season stood in stark contrast to the team’s early demeanour. By the season’s end, all of the ugly things that initially belied this team’s image had dissipated.
The Calgary series
With both teams jostling for a playoff position back in January, the then 11-4 University of Calgary Dinos travelled out west to take on the 9-4 ‘Birds. The weekend had everything from controversial player ejections to heroic last-second buzzer beaters. It was, simply put, some of the most exciting basketball I’ve witnessed in recent years. After suffering a heartbreaking defeat in game one, UBC rallied to win game two and split the series. Their exemplary effort against one of the most dangerous teams in Canada West seemed to affirm UBC’s sense of purpose moving forward, and looking back, it remains one of the high points of the season.
Vital to UBC’s success was the play of their seniors. Tommy Nixon, Andrew McGuinness, Brylle Kamen and Tonner Jackson will all be hanging up their jerseys next year; and they will all be missed. While I’ve already said much about Nixon, perhaps the unsung hero on this team was Tonner Jackson. Jackson’s improvement on the offensive end was noticeable as the season progressed. He worked his way into a starting role and was relied upon to contribute heavy minutes near the season’s end. Though they both had their bouts with injury, McGuinness and Kamen were integral pieces of the puzzle when healthy. McGuinness found his niche as the team’s most capable sharpshooter from outside, and the swift-footed Kamen was a dangerous inside scoring threat. Losing four senior players will take its toll on any team at this level, and it will be interesting to see how head coach Kevin Hanson and company respond next year.
With the end of the year comes the loss of size in the post, veteran leadership and one of the best players to come through UBC in recent history. In spite of this, the situation doesn’t seem so bleak. Far from it, actually. UBC has a potential all-star named Connor Morgan. The 6’9 Victoria native will begin his third year of play next October. He averaged 13.9 points per game -- second on the team behind Nixon -- and that number is far below what he is capable of. This is good news. Look for Morgan to be the scoring leader on next year’s team.
Also due for a big season is Kedar Wright. Wright was UBC’s best player in their Final Four loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies, putting up 23 points in 40 minutes of play. Wright was often delegated the task of guarding opposing teams’ most dangerous offensive ball handlers this year. He gets in the face of his defensive assignments and plays with a little bit of an attitude, an aspect of his game that I’m sure is much appreciated by his teammates and coaches. While next season will only mark the young guard’s third year of play, I anticipate that he will quickly harness the role of the team’s emotional leader.
Along with Morgan and Wright, look for David Wagner, who will be the sole fifth-year senior next year, and Jordan Jensen-Whyte to play big roles. A number of younger players who rode the pine this season will be battling for significant minutes on next year’s roster: Stefanos Fasianos, Elijah Campbell-Axson, Luka Zaharijevic and Daniel Sutcliffe; and who knows what kind of freshmen Hanson and his boys are going to bring in?
The 2014/15 campaign will ultimately be remembered as one that fell short of its potential. Such is the world of sports -- a single loss can cast a dark shade over an entire year’s worth of work. The sole consolation for the players, coaches and fans who fall short of a championship lies in the uncertainty of next season’s outcome. So while the wound from March’s early playoff exit has perhaps not yet fully closed, it will soon be entirely forgotten.
In a few short months, if you happen to be walking by the War Memorial Gym, you may be able to faintly hear the sound of sneakers screeching against the hardwood floor, the commanding voices of coaches instructing their players through drills and the muffled sound of basketballs being dribbled, as next year’s team prepares for another season.