After falling to Calgary in a Canada West Play-In series last February, the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s basketball team is hungry to return to the postseason this coming year. With a number of critical players from squads across the conference graduating, the parity is as high as it’s been in years, giving the herd an opportune chance to rise in the standings for 2015-16.
Manitoba’s only exits are guards Stephan Walton and Mike Holloway, as well as forward Andre Arruda. While these three players are tough losses, the chemistry within the group will still be quite strong. Not only do the Bisons have a large crop of returning players, head coach Kirby Schepp also went out and recruited some familiar faces, who will play into the fold immediately.
Without further adieu, here are a few players to look for when the herd begin their season this coming weekend.
It’s not their time to leave yet
Two players you might’ve not expected to be on this list are 2014-15 co-captains Wyatt Anders and Amir Ali. Both athletes technically played in their fifth and final year of eligibility last season, but they each won their final year back.
Ali, a point guard, tore his ACL a month and a half before the start of last season and played in just five regular season games. Due to his injury, he was granted medical redshirt status and is back for 2015-16.
Ali’s leadership and high basketball IQ will be very important for his squad this season. Between Ali and Ilarion Bonhomme II, the herd will have a ton of experience at the “one” position. His ability to read and react to what’s going on around him is something that any team would love to have, and the Bisons will be sure to take advantage of that.
He’s also versatile. While Bonhomme is fairly set at the point guard position due to his six-foot frame, Ali at six-foot-three can also move to shooting guard when needed.
Anders’ case is a bit more interesting. His fight to get his final year back as a transfer from the Canadian Mennonite University Blazers was a long and drawn-out process, but he eventually won his appeal and it couldn’t come at a better time.
While the Bisons have size in the front court with Brett Jewell and Jonathan Alexander, getting Anders back provides them with even more leadership and a player who fights for every rebound, boasting a strong post-up game. He’ll likely be inserted right back into the starting rotation, and gives the herd a double-double type effort game-in and game-out.
The usual suspects
Entering their third and fourth years respectively, guards Justus Alleyn and AJ Basi are two players who have consistently stepped up for their squad. Last season, they were also first and second in minutes per game – both racking up over 29.
Alleyn was second on the team in points per game in 2014-15 with 11.7, and has a natural scoring touch from both inside and outside the perimeter. Much like Ali, he can play either the “one” or “two” position, and has great speed coming off of the screen. His defensive game is also tenacious.
Basi is an all-around hard worker with hustle who led the team in points per game last year with 16.3. He has great touch from beyond the arc and is able to position himself excellently on a consistent basis.
Local playmakers from the past come back
Two of the biggest recruits for this season are local players who fill huge voids as dynamic swingmen on a roster that has primarily been guard-heavy in the past.
Joey Nitychoruk returns to Manitoba after three successful seasons with the Lakehead Thunderwolves of the OUA.
At six-foot-five he can play as a post but is also able to move out to the “three” position as a strong perimeter shooter. His ability on the glass and defence of the post-up game is also invaluable as a strong compliment to Anders, Jewell and Alexander. Nitychoruk’s nonstop work ethic is also contagious and will provide a spark for his teammates.
Keith Omoerah is another versatile player who’s making his return to the Bisons after two years away from the CIS game. He can play almost every position on the court, hence his description as a guard/forward on the roster.
Much like Nitychoruk, he has great range from beyond the arc but can also rebound effectively, and much like Anders, he’s capable of recording a double-double in every game.