UBC Thunderbirds' fifth-yeast senior Conor Morgan, one of the nation's elite, has been lost for a potentially extended period of time following an elbow injury suffered Thursday in Saskatoon. (UBC athletics photo by Richard Lam)
Feature University Men's Basketball

UBC star Conor Morgan lost to elbow injury, freshman Grant Shephard sees role increase

The UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team has added a lot of new faces to its 2017-18 roster, and while they have clearly shown huge promise in the early going, they may well be without their best player for an extended period of time.

Head coach Kevin Hanson told Varsity Letters on Friday afternoon that forward Conor Morgan, the team’s 6-foot-9 senior superstar, who last season finished second nationally in scoring, has had initial tests conducted on the elbow he injured Thursday in the team’s 89-85 win over the Western Mustangs at an invitational tournament being held at the University of Saskatchewan.

“He hurt his elbow, tore a ligament,” Hanson said by phone after the ‘Birds finished their game-day shootaround for tonight’s contest against the host Huskies. “He is going to be out for a while. We don’t have the imaging done yet, but the therapist here said it could be a three-to-six-week thing if it is what she thinks it is. But if it’s worse, it could be months. The kid has had a lot of bad luck.”

Most recently the ankle injury late last season which reduced the Euro-styled Morgan’s role to  that of a spot-up shooter in the ‘Birds shocking ouster to Manitoba in the Canada West playoffs.

“He is such a huge piece, such a huge talent,” Hanson continued of Morgan, who last season averaged 23.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and against the Mustangs on Thursday shot 5-of-7 from the floor, scoring 12 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in just 19 minutes before being hurt. “His passing and his leadership on the floor are the best they have ever been.”

It’s a setback to be sure, but he will be back. And in the meantime, as Hanson said “The (other) post players are going to get a lot of time.”

The injury will put more of a load on the shoulders of veteran Luka Zaharijevic, but most of all, on the star freshman out of Kelowna, Grant Shephard.

UBC freshman Grant Shephard has played like a veteran in his first collegiate preseason. and now it looks like he is going to get the minutes of a veteran as the team nears its Canada West conference opener. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)

“Last night he was 5-of-6,” said Hanson of Shephard, the 6-foot-10 Montverde Academy product who helped lead Canada to the title at the FIBA World Under-19 tournament in July. “Here’s a freshman kid who is averaging double digits scoring in about 15 minutes a game. And now his time will go up in the next few weeks. He’s a tough guard for anyone.”

Jauquin Bennett-Boire, the former high school superstar from Yale Secondary, started at point guard and finished with 13 points Thursday on 4-of-5 shooting.

Holy Cross grad Taylor Browne, playing a swing spot, led the team in scoring, hitting three treys and finishing with 15 points.

Off-guard Phil Jalalpoor added 12 and Zaharijevic eight points.

Freshman point guard Mason Bourcier has found a quick fit in the back court of the UBC Thunderbirds. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)

Freshman guard Mason Bourcier, came off the bench and played 21 minutes, finishing with six points and three assists.

It’s hard to remember two pure freshmen coming into Hanson’s UBC program and exerting such influence this early and the coach admitted as much about Shephard and Bourcier.

“I call it a high level of confidence,” Hanson said of the former Kelowna teammates who last played together in March of 2016, leading the Owls to the B.C. Quad A title at the Langley Events Centre.

“I can’t ever remember a duo in their first year who gelled like that, right from the beginning. Their longtime history of friendship has translated. They maybe were our two best players last night and it’s exciting to have that.”

Eleven ‘Birds played at least 10 minutes in a game in which UBC led by 22 points early in the second half and shot 58.2 per cent from the field. No UBC player took more than eight shots from the field.

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