The Bison men’s basketball team harbours high hopes for the young regular season they opened at home against the U of Alberta this past weekend.
Before their first game on Friday, a special ceremony was held to honor the 35th anniversary of the 1976 Bison men’s basketball team’s national championship. It was — and remains — U of M’s only national championship in basketball.
Players from the championship team were honoured with a plaque to be displayed in the Investors Group Athletic Centre; the following day, the team was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, the current Bison squad hopes to build off of last season’s first round exit from the playoffs with the ultimate goal of playing in the CIS national tournament.
“Last season we started out really strong — it was one of our best starts in recent memory,” said third-year Bison men’s head coach Kirby Schepp. “We came out of the gates really solid. And then as the year went on we struggled with a bit of injuries, we lost a couple of guys due to personal reasons and really came into the meat of our schedule when we played the top teams in the league all in a row and struggled a bit to finish.
“We accomplished our goal, but basically limped into the playoffs.”
Schepp is hoping that the playoff experience helps to change the culture around the team. He wants players to head into every game with confidence and a will to win, and expects locker room leaders to help keep that culture alive and well.
“Your leaders are always crucial. In terms of setting the tone every day in practice, in terms of our training — even their performance on the court is going to be absolutely huge”
One of those leaders happens to be a new Bison addition this year. Point guard Stefan Walton hails from Decatur, Ga. and is in his third year of eligibility, after playing the previous two years at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Walton has been selected as a co-captain — alongside fourth-year Bison forward Kevin Oliver — and hopes that his knowledge of the game and experience playing down south can help the Bison to be successful.
When asked what makes a team leader successful, Walton emphasized the importance of keeping his teammates focused on the coach’s game plan.
“Make sure that everybody is on the same page, and don’t leave anyone out. From the last person on the bench to the person that plays the most, just make sure that everyone’s on the same page.”
Walton showcased the talent he brings to the team during his regular season debut against the No. 6 Alberta Golden Bears. He led the Bisons in scoring with 28 points and was 5-for-7 from the three-point line.
The Bisons ended up losing their first game of the season, but they managed to bounce back and beat the Bears the following day. In the victory, the Bisons spread the ball around a lot more — nearly every Bison player got on to the score sheet — and four different players had point totals in the double-digits.
If anything can be inferred this early in the season, it would seem that a balanced attack will be the key to victory for the Bisons. It’s safe to assume that both Walton and Oliver will try and keep their teammates focused on replicating the success the U of M tasted 35 years ago.