ABBOTSFORD — Last season, Sukhjot Bains traded snow for rain in a transfer from NCAA Div. 1 Wisconsin-Green Bay back to his home province and a spot in U Sports with Abbotsford’s Fraser Valley Cascades.
Yet while frozen tundra gave way to puddles, the former high school superstar with Surrey’s Tamanawis Wildcats is the first to admit that when it came to unleashing his three-point shooting prowess on the rest of the conference, he failed to make a splash.
Come Friday, however, as the Cascades (0-2) host Kelowna’s UBC Okanagan Heat (1-3) in its Canada West home opener at Envision Financial Athletic Centre (8 p.m.), the fifth-year senior is set to reinforce the notion that his rainmaker has been reborn.
And that’s not to say, by any stretch, that Bains is anything resembling a one-dimensional player.
Yet returning that three-point shooting touch back to a quiver of weapons led by his one-on-one defensive abilities could be seen as crucial to the fortunes of a young Cascades’ team in 2019-20.
“Last season, I was coming off of playing at Green Bay where I didn’t shoot much and didn’t have much of a role,” said the 6-foot-6 Bains, whose Cascades wrap up their weekend home stand against the Heat on Saturday (7 p.m.). “So I just wasn’t used to shooting it as much as I did, and that really affected my numbers.”
That’s no overstatement.
It had been a year of prep school, followed by two junior college seasons before Bains ascended to the NCAA Div. 1 level, but once there, he hit on just 7-of-29 three-points attempts (24.1 per cent) over 517 total minutes of play.
Contrast that with last season, where Bains went 44-of-177 (24.9 per cent) over 762 minutes of floor time.
Crunch those two sets of numbers, and you discover that he shot over four times the amount of triples-per-minute from one season to the next.
Cascades’ assistant coach Manny Dulay, two years Bains’ senior, and his high school teammate over the 2011-12 season at Tamanawis, spent some time working with him on that shot over the summer, and both credit a fresh, broad-based change in approach to making a big difference in the early going.
“Manny worked on some fundamentals with my shot, but they were just little adjustments… nothing crazy at all,” said Bains, who shot an encouraging 44 per cent from distance (10-of-23) in UFV’s first two conference games, a pair of losses two weekends ago in Winnipeg. Currently, he is leading the team in scoring at 19 ppg, a total which has him ninth in the Canada West.
“It was really more about the mental part of the game,” Bains continued. “At this level, everyone is good, and what separates players is the mental part.”
Bains, who suffered a nagging ankle injury this past July 12 at the Dolphin Park tournament in Richmond and thus wasn’t able to contribute much during a summer stint with the crosstown Fraser Valley Bandits of Canadian Elite Basketball League, also managed to play in just two UFV preseason games, both against Victoria.
The concentrated time he spent in the gym following the injury, however, got him in enough of a groove that he shot combined 8-for-18 in those two contests, putting him at a combined 18-of-41 (44 per cent) from beyond the arc heading into Friday.
Dulay, who capped his Cascades’ career by becoming the fourth-most prolific three-point shooter in Canada West history with 242 triples, agreed that Bains’ new mindset has played the biggest role in his significantly-improved early returns.
“Early on in my career, I had some good vets who showed me the mindset and the mentality it takes,” says Dulay, who in addition to working on head coach Adam Friesen’s staff this season at UFV is also the head coach of the Tamanawis senior boys varsity.
“We would always say ‘You need dogs,’ the guys who would go out and fight and show passion… and I leaned on that as far as my mindset for shooting,” continued Dulay.
“My favourite player was always Chris Paul, because he was so efficient and when he saw a questionable shot, he didn’t take it,” Dulay continued in referencing the 15-year NBA veteran guard. “But Adam really opened my eyes over my first two or three seasons. He told me that even if a shot didn’t look good on paper, you needed to be ready to take it, to believe in it.”
How does that advice apply to Bains?
“You have to believe in your shot all the time, and put the work in during the offseason,” Dulay adds. “Then once the lights comes on, it really is just the mindset and the mentality. Are you fighting and focussed? When I saw Sukh over the summer, I saw a different energy. He seems to be ready, and at UFV we have this thing with our fifth-year (players) where you build your whole career for this year. I know it’s what he expects of himself.”
Of course if the shooting portion of his game can hang with his more-established defensive prowess, there could be a very special fifth-year campaign in the making.
“I wasn’t known for it in high school,” remembers Bains of his defence, “but over my four years (in the U.S.) it was emphasized and it’s something that helped me stay on the court. I have always taken pride in stopping the other team’s best player.”
Yet this past summer, Sukhjot Bains will readily admit that the itch of three-point shooting redemption made offence the focus of his extended workouts.
“Coach told me I need to be the main guy on offence and defence,” Bains says. “I am definitely looking to be more offensive in my fifth year. I need to bounce back. I need to be more aggressive.”
It’s all his way of saying that he came home to finish his university career with a splash.
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