LANGLEY — It’s hard to paint the precise picture that best captures the state of the 2019-20 Trinity Western Spartans men’s basketball team.
First, you start with the basics: A team coming off an 0-20 conference season a year ago, with a brand new head coach and 10 new players, many of whom had likely never even heard of the Canada West or its parent U Sports before deciding to don Spartans’ togs and call the Langley Events Centre their new home base.
Then, you add another key layer: A preseason in which so many injuries occurred that new head coach Trevor Pridie still has no clear idea what his everyday starting line-up and main rotation will look like.
And finally, you take roll call as these TWU players board a bus for Kamloops to open their new conference season Friday (5 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) against the host Thompson Rivers WolfPack.
If you were around in the mid-1990s and you remember what it felt like when the Vancouver Grizzlies were piecing together their expansion roster in time for the 1995-96 campaign, well… this almost feels like the university equivalent of the same.
So when the first question posed to Pridie is what the cohesion of his group is going to be like come Friday, it’s not surprising that he is unsure.
“That is the big question,” he said. “With all of our different starting lineups, I am not too sure. I think we have a chance to be competitive but it’s hard to gauge right now. It’s going to be a little experimental.”
The Spartans split a pair of games with the defending CCAA national champion Vancouver Island Mariners, and beat both Douglas College and the Seattle Mountaineers before losing to Mt Royal as part of its 3-2 preseason.
The roster will shake itself out as the season progresses, but that cohesion factor will be huge.
Holdover players like Isaiah Reimer, Daniel Stead, Jack Nadelhoffer, Ethan DaSilva, Aaron Paetkau and Andrew Goertzen will attempt to meld with a core of newcomers.
Pridie looks back on how quickly things moved in terms of stocking the roster back in the spring, and it’s clear that a lot of work has been accomplished as he scoured the globe for new blood.
“I feel like when I got this job, I had five, maybe six players confirmed for this season and it was May 1,” Pridie laughs. “There was a ton of work to do and we had to recruit like crazy.
“But,” he adds, “I think I caught a couple of breaks on some international guys, and they are real character guys.”
The biggest impact player just might be an offensively-gifted Texan.
Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath, a 6-foot-2 combo guard who is best labelled a point guard in Pridie’s new uptempo scheme, showed over the course of the preseason that he just may well be that rare plug-and-play scorer, able to adapt to a new league with new rules and just continue to score the basketball.
“I knew a guy in Texas with an Athletes in Action-type background, and he knew about Ja’Qualyn,” begins Pridie. “I also have a friend at Texas Tech, and when I talked to him, his name came up again.”
Playing a role as a back-up shooting guard and part-time starter at NCAA Div. 2 Lubbock Christian, Gilbreath was looking to break out the more traditional and structured offence he found himself a part of.
That, and the fact that he could have two more years of eligibility in Canada, was enough for him to make the move from Lubbock to Langley.
“He wanted to be a point guard and he wanted to be more dynamic,” said Pridie, who watched Gilbreath put up 43 on the Mountaineers and score 28 in the first half of its win over Vancouver Island. “I think he can be our go-to guy.”
The other prime international is an Australian native, yet Pridie plucked 6-foot-6 forward Adam Gehrig from Clackamas (Ore.) CC of the Northwest Athletic Conference.
“I was e-mailing the NWAC coaches and letting them know exactly what I was looking for in a four (power forward), and the Clackamas coach told me about (Gehrig),a team captain and a 4.0 (GPA) student.
“He is a real character kid,” continued Pridie.
The skill set fit as well. Gehrig’s ability to stretch the offence as a trailer, his pick-and-pop skills and his overall toughness fit the bill.
Among the newcomers with local resumes, ex-G.W. Graham Grizzlies guard Gabe Mannes has shown an ability to step into the fray coming off one season at CCAA Columbia Bible, while former Yale Secondary and UFV guard Riley Braich brings an explosive scoring touch out of the backcourt. Braich, however, is presently shelved with an ankle injury.
“The guys have a lot of energy, they are excited, there is a good buzz around the team, and right now everyone is 0-0,” says Pridie, whose team will make its regular-season home debut Nov. 8-9 at the LEC against the UNBC Timberwolves.
“We feel good going in this weekend, but we also have a lot of players, like Ja’Qualyn and Gabe who have never played in the Canada West.”
Let the mystery unfold.
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