As amazing as last year’s run was, it isn’t quite the inspiration most people would expect as the Douglas College Royals men’s basketball team prepares for this weekend’s PacWest playoffs.
A Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association finalist, Douglas coach Joe Enevoldson wouldn’t mind dredging up some of those motivational memories to set the mood.
Unfortunately, this year’s team has earned its stripes almost completely without any boost from last year, having turned over nearly 80 per cent of the roster.
That makes this year’s defence of the B.C. title a different kind of challenge, Enevoldson said.
“I believe our biggest test was coming off last year’s incredible performance, with how it ended and all the turnover,” the coach noted. “We almost have a brand new team, with 10 new personalities who process the game 10 new ways.”
The three returnees are able to reflect on last year’s mercurial rise – and emotional plunge with the 86-73 loss to Seneca in the national final. If tearing off an old bandaid quickly is the best response to an old wound, the squad has done it this year.
What they have achieved this go around is something organic and transformational, but one that has required some molding and patience.
Douglas launched the season four months ago with two helter skelter wins, then dropped the next two. They proceeded to win eight of the next 10, demonstrating chemistry and growth along the way.
"This group has a different dynamic (than last year's)," remarked the coach. "We're a very athletic team, a well-balanced team. ... That's been our ID since I came to Douglas. We don't have one or two guys who carry the load, but rely upon a number of guys chipping in offensively and rebounding by committee."
With New West native Sylvester Appiah the lone fifth-year player in the lineup, and eight players with one-or-two years experience at the college level – majority being transfers from other programs – experience is open to interpretation.
But Enevoldson, who was named Wednesday as the PacWest coach of the year, expects this team’s combined strengths to give them a shot at repeating.
“Whenever you have that much turnover you never know what you’re going to get, but (the season) has gone well to date.”
The Royals enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed with a 12-6 record. Only Vancouver Island University, at 16-2, rate better, and both teams have a bye into Friday’s semifinals (3 p.m. for Douglas) at the New West campus.
Since mid-January the team has enjoyed a 7-2 run, displaying strong chemistry that conceals the lack of returnees.
That could be because those leadership intangibles mostly expected from returnees are being exhibited by many of the first-year core.
Forward Courtney Anderson is one of those newcomers, who has made an impressive transition coming in from Clark College of Vancouver, Wash. The five-foot-10 guard has led the team in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game, and nearly six rebounds.
Six-foot-10 Bollo Gnahore, meanwhile, fell into the team’s lap just seven weeks ago, following a long route that took him from his native Ivory Coast thru North Carolina and New Mexico to New Westminster.
He’s produced 13 points, 8.5 rebounds and three blocks per game, all while acclimatizing himself to the Canadian winter.
Appiah, meanwhile, has witnessed another evolution in his role with the club. Someone who got regular floor time in 2016-17, last year he was tasked with more of a supporting position coming off the bench. Now, he's back in the thick of it and providing a lot of the glue that binds this year's roster together, Enevoldson said.
"He's had an amazing fifth year for us," said the third-year Douglas coach. "My first year he was a starter for us and last season we moved him to the bench where he was a good extra man. This year (Appiah) has stepped into the light and out of the shadows. He's good on the perimeter but strong enough to post-up."
Appiah has contributed an average of 8.3 points and nearly four boards per game.
The lineup also includes a pair of Burnaby products -- second-year guard Taylor Smith of Burnaby South, and Notre Dame's Kobe McKnight.
That’s only part of the Douglas picture, but gives a hint at what the team has.
Now it comes down to what they can achieve on the bigger stage.
With such a new group it wouldn't seem strange to hear how this is a season for learning and bonding. Enevoldson said, while those reactions are understandable, it doesn't mute the end desire for a program that has become use to challenging for the top prize.
“My sole purpose coming (to coach Douglas) was to compete and win these medal games,” said Enevoldson. “I don’t think we have to mirror that miracle run of last year, but we have to expect to be the ones hoisting that banner come Saturday night.”
The PacWest basketball championships feature the top six teams of both the men’s and women’s leagues.
Thursday’s men’s quarterfinals pit No. 3 seed Capilano against No. 6 Okanagan at 3 p.m., followed by No. 4 Langara, who as hosts of this year’s CCAA men’s championships have an automatic bye into the nationals, up against No. 5 Camosun.
The semifinals proceed Friday, at 3 p.m. (Douglas vs. the Cap/OK winner) and 8 p.m. (VIU vs. either Langara or Camosun).
The championship final hits the floor Saturday at 8 p.m.
In the preamble to the tourney start, the PacWest awards were handed out, and the Royals carted off their share.
Tyrone Asenoguan, the first-year Kitsilano product was named the league's Rookie of the Year, to the second all-star team and the all-rookie team. Surrey's Dylan Kinley, like Asenoguan part of the team's strong freshmen guards, earned a spot on the all-rookie team, while Anderson was named to the PacWest first all-star team.
You can follow the action and see the schedule at www.pacwestbc.ca.