First-year head coach Steve Hanson was glowing about the challenge he faced as a first-time university head coach. After spending years as a high school head coach, last year he was an assistant coach for SFU.
“It’s exciting, you just have to be sharp everyday, every practice. Every minute in practice means something,” he explained. “I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m really proud to be here and expect big things from the future.”
It’s that kind of attitude, perhaps, that despite a 4–24 overall record for the team, had graduating senior Gibran Sewani say that this was the most excited he was for the men’s basketball team going forward in his five years in the program.
Hanson, who had coached championship-calibre teams at Terry Fox Secondary before joining the SFU staff, seems to embrace the challenge.
“You never come home from the gym on a Thursday night saying we’re going to beat this team by 30 [at this level] — that happens in high school quite a bit when you have a good high school program.”
But a challenge it was. After winning two consecutive non-conference Division II games in November, SFU went on to lose 19 consecutive games, before nabbing their first conference win of the season on February 11.
“The growth came a lot later than I had hoped or expected,” explained Hanson. “We just looked disjointed early in the season. It’s a process, and [for] a lot of teams that have been together that process has already happened. So, I can already tell right now that [in] the runs we’ve just been having over the last few weeks, we’re just meshing a lot better right now.”
By the end of the year, the Clan looked like a much different team than the one in November and December. In late-January and throughout February, they were competitive most nights and pulled out a couple of wins.
“About mid-January, there was just a change in the way we were playing, especially on the offensive end. And we made a few adjustments defensively — just tactical adjustments — but really there was an adjustment with just how we meshed on the floor, and that took a long time.”
And that’s the advantage he has going into the off-season — something to build upon.
Last year, Hanson took over as interim head coach after then-head coach Virgil Hill resigned on April 1, less than a year after former head coach James Blake had resigned. While he got the permanent job title on May 26, he had inherited a roster of only six returners who had seen minutes (eight counting redshirts), with the promising freshman Oshea Gairey having left the program, and a shortened recruiting season to rebuild the team.
Any progress that one saw at the end of the 2015–16 season likely dissipated with the turnover of coaches and players.
Now, for the first time since the 2014 off-season, with Hanson leading the ship, the men’s basketball team will be entering recruiting season with a stable coaching staff.
“Doing a really good job in recruiting, you have to develop relationships with guys, and start young,” said Hanson. “Because if you’re talking to a guy for the first time in April, you really don’t know what you’re getting, and that leads to a lot of bad decisions sometimes with coaches.”
He’s looking everywhere for players, with priorities being BC high schools, to Ontario, to junior colleges throughout the United States. Washington State, which he notes is a good spot due to the quality of basketball there and closeness in climate and proximity, is also being heavily looked at. (The men’s team hasn’t had a player listed from Washington since the 2013–14 season).
“We look everywhere, honestly. It starts in BC, we want the best BC kids here,” he said. “[But] it’s international now, it only takes a YouTube video for me. I get 30–40 emails a week from guys in Australia, Asia, all over the place.”
The importance, however, is seeing these prospects in-person.
“Most guys in their highlight tape shoot 100%, so they’re perfect,” Hanson said. “It’s much better to see them in person, meet them in person, and get them out for tryouts. We’ve had a few guys up for tryouts the last couple of weeks.”
While the particulars he is looking for are players with size and who can rebound, they also have to be capable of SFU academically and fit in with the culture.
“Number one is we want talent. Number two is we need to have great students. Number three is we need somebody who fits, and what I mean about fits is you have to come here wanting to get an SFU degree; you have to want to hit the gym and really work on your game, because now after exams we have a long off-season — close to four months off where coaches are not allowed to work with players,” Hanson noted.
According to BCHoopScoop, 6’7” Vancouver College forward Sam Bailey has verbally committed to SFU. On Monday, Howard Tsumura reported that Keegan Kohn, a six foot point point guard from Holy Cross has committed to SFU.
According to Verbal Commits, SFU has at least two outstanding offers to junior college players, and one to 6’3” Kelowna high school point guard Mason Bourcier. Bourcier was named to the BC 4A boy’s basketball first-team, while Bailey was named to the second-team. (Hanson did not name any specific recruits or offers).
“We have a couple of BC walk-on guys who will be really good additions in a couple of years,” said Hanson. “For us, there’s a lot of good quality guys out there, but they have to mesh with our guys and we have some time, but we hope to announce a few signings on April 12.”
But the biggest thing Hanson will have at his disposal is a strong group of returners. Out of the 15-man roster last season (including redshirts), 10 will return. SFU lost seniors Sewani and Hidde Vos to graduation.
Despite a shortened recruiting period, the men’s basketball team was able to add a couple of freshmen last year who look to have the potential be primary pieces for the team.
Michael Provenzano, as a redshirt freshman, was the team’s biggest offensive threat and looked at home in his first year of university play. He was also relied on extensively, playing a full 40 minutes twice, and averaging 31.3 minutes a game.
“A big part [of] our growth as a team was him. I think coming in, as a redshirt freshman, he was trying to prove he could play at this level. So, I think he made a lot of mistakes early, just by trying to do too much,” said Hanson. “A big part of our change was his play: better shot selection, he’s a very good passer — he showed that a lot more later in the year.
“He had a few more turnovers than we would’ve liked, but again, it’s forcing things he didn’t need to force.”
Pure freshman (straight out of high school) Othniel Spence also showed real promise, putting up a team-high 29 points and 24 points in the final two games. Hanson commended Spence’s work in the gym and on shooting the ball.
“It leads to confidence in games. His minutes really went up,” commented Hanson.
The core seems like it will be intact, with Hanson also indicating that Kedar Wright, JJ Pankratz, Iziah Sherman-Newsome (next year’s senior class), Tyrell Lewin, and Graham Miller appear to be in the team’s plans. (He did not specify the three non-seniors were leaving).
“What’s really nice is that out of our 10 guys [returning], nine guys are going to stay in BC this year and train all summer. We expect that to really help the process in September,” said Hanson.
“That culture and that gelling has happened now, when you bring in one or two pieces now to that mix, it’s going to be a lot smoother transition. The 10 guys coming back know what the expectations are.”
While Hanson is happy that the team played its “best basketball the last five or six weeks of the season, which is what I want to get to every year,” he’s not satisfied. The expectation for next season is clear — there’s no mistaking his words.
“That’s our expectation: make the playoffs,” said Hanson. “If we don’t make the playoffs, we failed.”
While last season the hope was for the playoffs, it seemed more like a long-term ambition rather than an expectation for the coming season. For the 2017–18 season, the expectation to contend is sincere.
“This year, it would’ve been a great thing to do, but if you look back on the season, and we were where we were in in mid-January, we would’ve been right there — if you look at the number four to number 10 team, it was like a one-game difference between all those teams,” he said.
“We’re not satisfied. We’re not going to be satisfied until we’re in the playoffs every year.”