Blues continue growth and development amidst hectic year
There were no shortages of obstacles for the Capilano Blues men’s basketball team this past season.
The Blues came into the year with an exciting roster featuring a blend of returning players and high-profile recruits. They addressed the needs that emanated from last season’s fourth place finish: they got older, revamped their frontcourt with more size and acquired several players who could really put the ball in the basket.
Then they lost their backcourt. Issues with eligibility cost the Blues their potential starting guards, losing both third-year players in Martin Bogajev and Brendan Bailey.
However, with loss comes opportunity. Rising to the challenge were second-year shooting guard EJ Mabone and rookie point guard Wowie Untalan. The change in the backcourt was sudden, but somehow, the Blues still managed to turn heads in the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST). Not only did they win their season opener against the Douglas College Royals despite an abrupt change in personnel, they also proceeded to sweep both island teams in their own home courts. Beating both the Camosun College Chargers and the Vancouver Island University Mariners in back-to-back road games is almost unheard of in the PACWEST, but the Blues did it.
“Coach [Kile] Cooke and I at the beginning of the season told the guys that our goal was to be the hardest working team in the league,” said head coach Cassidy Kannemeyer.
The play of their new backcourt was integral in their fast start. Mabone, a 6’2 second-year guard immediately established himself as the Blues’ go-to lockdown defender. On Nov. 5, he put the PACWEST on notice by shutting down Usama Zaid of the Mariners to just 13 points on a paltry 3 for 16 shooting night. “As [Mabone] moves forward, if he can improve his handle and lower body strength, he could be a top-10 player in the league,” Kannemeyer said.
On the point, Untalan took the league by storm with his speed, showing off an impressive ability to get anywhere he wanted with a nasty crossover and an explosive first step. “If he can get his three-point shot to 35 per cent he will be one of the toughest players to stop in the league,” Kannemeyer said about the blur of a point guard. “He also has to work on his free throws, because with his speed he can get to the line often.” Untalan was eventually named the PACWEST Rookie of the Year by season’s end.
A big part of the team’s early success was the emergence of Greet Gill. The third-year do-it-all forward quickly established himself as the Blues’ go-to-guy. His maturity is evident in his performance. Gill plays under control, often appearing calculated in his methodical offensive forays. His strength also separates him from nearly everyone he plays against, evidenced by his incredible 25-point and 20-rebound outing against the Chargers on Nov. 4. “Greet was a leader from day one,” said Kannemeyer. “He coaches guys on the floor and in practice. On the offensive end, he can help you in all areas.” Like Untalan, Gill also received year-end recognition from the league, earning a spot in the PACWEST First Team All-Stars.
By winter, the Blues had shot themselves to the top of the conference. They were 5-1 heading into the break with victories over established teams like the Mariners, the Royals and the Langara Falcons. Then, trouble started knocking on the door. First, they lost half of Mabone’s season due to injury. Afterwards, combo forward from Des Moines, Washington, Caden Rowland departed the team after he seemingly left his academics unchecked.
Behind the play of Gill and swingman Hassan Phills, the Blues still managed to win their first few games of the new year, but their winning ways wouldn’t last long. On Jan. 14, the Mariners came to town and extracted revenge on the Blues. The loss would mark the start of a forgettable stretch for the Blues, losing seven out of their final nine games of the season. “The losing streak was caused by several factors,” Kannemeyer said. “Injuries, Caden Rowland departure, people having to step up into new roles, Hassan [Phills] had to become our secondary scorer, five of our last six [games] were on the road. With all those factors happening at the same time, growing pains were bound to follow.” The slide also pushed the Blues out of the top two spots, costing them a valuable bye in the coming tournament.
In time for the PACWEST provincials, Kannemeyer and assistant coach Kile Cooke made changes that they hoped would bear fruit come playoff-time. “We watched enough film to know who are starters could be, who our finishers were, what combos worked, who excelled in man and who excelled in zone,” Kannemeyer explained.
Lo and behold, the Blues made it to the finals. Despite their exciting first half against the defending champs, the Blues ultimately fell to the Mariners 94-77, ending their season with the provincial silver medal. “I felt like we took a step forward this season,” Kannemeyer said. “We proved in the PACWEST playoffs that we are a tough team to play against and that makes me proud to coach these guys.”
In the end, despite taking the blame for some of the issues that the Blues faced this season, Kannemeyer couldn’t be more proud of the guys that wore the Capilano name on their jerseys. “I made many mistakes this season,” he said. “In terms of what players I brought in, coaching errors, practice plan errors, the players that survived the season academically and physically represented the men’s basketball program with class all the way to the end.”
The players that fought through thick and thin, maintained their focus on the court and in the classroom – those guys just might be the foundation for what can be an exciting basketball profram. “[The Blues] showed resiliency through many ups and downs, they were right there when it mattered, playing their best when everything was on the line,” Kannemeyer said. “Those are the kind of players I want representing the school.”
The Blues now have next season to look forward to. They have a relatively young core, and if this group of players sticks around and grows together, they could soon be up to something truly special.
Campus Life Editor
Community Relations Manager
Arts and Culture Editor