Fresh off his impactful rookie season this summer with the Winnipeg Sea Bears in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), forward Simon Hildebrandt will be returning to the Bisons for his second season this fall.
Interestingly, the 2022-23 Bisons, Canada West (CanWest) and U Sports male Rookie of the Year was equal parts volleyball and basketball player until he started his university basketball career, playing both “all the way through high school,” he said.
“I was a big soccer player too growing up, I played a little bit of hockey, flag football,” he continued. His parents always told him that he should “try everything.”
Hildebrandt credited his parents with supporting him as he figured out which sport he enjoyed most, and said they told him to “just have fun” and “play as much as you can for as long as you can.”
In fact, Hildebrandt said if he could play both volleyball and basketball at the university level he would “in a heartbeat,” but added that he does find basketball “more fun.”
A Winnipegger himself, Hildebrandt ended up choosing to play in his hometown because of the caliber of the Bisons’ head coach and the team itself.
“Kirby Schepp is a fantastic coach, and we have a really good young team with a lot of really good players,” Hildebrandt said. When he joined the Bisons, he believed that the team “could really do something special.”
“It kind of showed in our first year,” he said. “Not a lot of people thought we were going to be very good, and we made it to the [CanWest] conference semifinal. We had the best record in our program’s history and we’re still a really young team, so I think we have a pretty bright future ahead of us.”
In his rookie season with the Bisons, Hildebrandt racked up 88 defensive rebounds, 22 steals and 370 points overall, averaging 16.8 points per game. One his most impressive stats is his .849 free-throw percentage, making 90 of the 106 free throws he attempted.
Hildebrandt also led the team through the contentious playoff game that would see the Bisons fall short of the CanWest conference final — losing by one possession after the refs allowed a University of Winnipeg Wesmen layup to count despite a shot clock violation — playing 40 minutes and racking up 20 of the team’s 70 points.
Regardless of his impressive stats, Hildebrandt credits the team’s perfect recipe of “a good group of veterans and young guys and coaches” for his fantastic rookie season.
“I found a lot of my teammates and coaches always encouraged me and always had my back,” Hildebrandt said, even when he felt he wasn’t playing his best.
“I don’t think anybody on our team is in it for the stats or in it for the glory, we all just want to win,” he added. “That’s a huge part that helps us play well together.”
Hildebrandt’s outstanding first year with the Bisons led to his impressive CEBL rookie season. He was selected first overall in the 2023 CEBL U Sports draft by the Sea Bears for their inaugural season.
“I got to play with them all summer,” Hildebrandt said, “it was really cool.”
Hildebrandt played every game of the Sea Bears’ season, and praised Sea Bears head coach Mike Taylor’s efforts to develop an award-worthy team right out of the gate.
“In that league there’s a lot of turnover, like, weekly,” Hildebrandt said, noting that Taylor brought continuity to the team, using the same 12-player bench every game.
“I think that was really good,” he continued, “we really gelled, we all knew each other, knew how we played, enjoyed each other, I think that was really helpful.”
Hildebrandt was a three-point shot leader for the Sea Bears, ranking fourth on the team with 25. He racked up 129 points overall and was just named the 2023 CEBL U Sports Player of the Year for his impact this season.
Hildebrandt said he hopes to share everything he learned from his time in the CEBL this summer with the Bisons when their season starts up in November.
“This summer I was playing with all of these professional guys who have tons more basketball experience and know way more than I know at this stage of my career,” Hildebrandt explained.
“So, trying to be able to learn — be a sponge — just learn as much as I can this summer, and just try to share that with my teammates so we can all get better and all really lock into this season.”