The University of Manitoba men’s basketball team opened up the 2016-17 season this weekend. But, before season tip-off, the Bisons named new team captains. Senior guards AJ Basi and Justus Alleyn lead the herd into the new season with the hope of replicating their success from last year.
Manitoba had a good season last year, as they made it to the Canada West final four, but were eliminated by the Calgary Dinos. The Bisons will have an opportunity to get their revenge when they open the new season this weekend in Calgary.
The team fills the court with a lot of experience, as well as having some young players such as freshman forward James Wagner. Alleyn talked about the atmosphere of the locker room with the mix of veterans and rookies heading into the new season.
“I think it’s going pretty good,” Alleyn said. “All our older guys, we have been playing together for a few years now. At the same time we have kind of known the younger guys just through this basketball scene in the city. Everyone gets along great, so it is a pretty good environment.”
Kirby Schepp is entering his eighth season as the Bisons’ head coach, and he also gave some insight into his team’s locker room.
“We have a very veteran crew this year, a number of fourth and fifth year guys,” he said. “We also have a number of young guys who are playing very well. We think we’re ready to compete right now but also our future is bright with these young guys.”
Schepp added that the team’s captains and other veteran players were playing a key role in setting the pace for new players this year.
“Alleyn, Basi, and a number of other guys are providing tremendous leadership for us,” Schepp said. “These are guys who have kind of been through the wars, are battle-tested, and are certainly ready for all the things that are going to come.”
After being eliminated by the Dinos last season, the team is ready to take another shot at the division favorites.
“Our seasons ended there the last two seasons,” Basi said. “We’re excited to get back there and get some payback. It’s still pretty fresh in our minds.”
The Bisons hosted a playoff game last season and hope to do so again, but that is not their major goal of the season.
“It would be nice, probably a goal along the way,” Basi said. “But we sort of want to build on that and do better, I don’t think it’s our end all, be all of the season – we’re looking to do more than just that.”
The Bisons did not have the greatest preseason, but will hope to leave that behind them when the regular season starts.
“We struggled a bit in the pre-season, that’s kind of dampened expectations slightly,” Schepp said. “But at the same time we’re as optimistic as we’ve been this year, expectations are high, and so they should be.”
Starting the season with upset wins in Calgary would be huge for the team. Again, the team still remembers how their season ended last year, and are excited for the chance to get some revenge.
“Our guys are really looking forward to the challenge,” Schepp said. “Getting a sweep would be huge, getting a split even would be really big, and set the tone for our year.”
The Bisons begin their season at home with a series against Thompson Rivers, which will tip-off on Nov. 11-12 at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.