Basketball coach Steve Hanson realistic about team expectations

A playoff push is more likely for SFU than a dream first-place finish this season

Photo of Steve Hanson and the basketball coaching staff sitting on the sideline during a game.
PHOTO: Paul Yates / SFU Athletics

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

The fall National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season is coming to a close, which means the next round of athletes are gearing up for the start of their regular season competition. The start of a new athletic season also means the arrival of team rankings. After placing seventh in their conference last year, SFU finished second-last in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll. The Peak sat down with head coach Steve Hanson to discuss the season ahead and what he’s hoping to see from his athletes.

Hanson, in his eighth year heading the men’s basketball team, is “super excited” for the season ahead, despite the departure of several key players from the Red Leafs starting roster. However, the talk of the team is this year’s considerable number of former NCAA Division I transfers, including Eric Beckett, Georges Lefebrve, and Victor Radocaj. “With so many new guys, it’s a ton of work,” said Hanson, “But it’s extremely exciting. There’s so much potential.”

Hanson is equally pleased with his freshmen recruits, like Jimmy Zaborniak, the first-year guard hailing from Burnaby. “[Zaborniak] is really showing he can play at this level,” said Hanson, who believes the rookie “has the potential to play minutes this year.” Most minutes get eaten up by older players who start the game, and get taken out with some time remaining in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Jahmal Wright and junior guard David Penney are two of the returning players who will be looked at to lead on the court. “Those two were both starters for most of the season last year and had huge roles,” said Hanson. 

However, this isn’t the first time a freshman has played their way into the lineup. Sophomore guard Elliott Dimaculangan was a welcoming surprise for Hanson. “He really shined as a shooting guard last year and stepped up in some big moments, which is hard to do as a freshman — to have that courage to take big shots in big situations.”

While Hanson recognizes that pressure mounts for both his athletes and himself as the start of the regular season inches closer. There’s been extra “urgency” this preseason for players to become well acquainted with the team’s new additions. This was especially apparent during the squad’s first practice on Oct 15. “We’re behind where we were, because there’s not as much carryover with so many new guys,” said Hanson.

Regardless of early season huddles, Hanson is looking to take down SFU’s first opponent of the season, Western Washington, just like they did last season. “Our season opener is December 3 against Western Washington. We went 2–0 against them last year, and that was a team that’s always tough to defeat,” he said. “We take that with pride every time we play them. We want to knock off our closest rival.”

Part of securing a winning record is getting wins when having home court advantage, something Hanson says has been a strength of the team since he took over as coach in 2016. “I think it’s so hard to win on the road in this conference because the travel is so big and so long. We gotta be better on the road and continue to be really good at home,” he said. 

While the goal is for SFU to “win the conference” for the first time in history, with this many new players, Hanson is anticipating this year to be more of a learning curve for the team. “I’m not sure if this will be their year,” the coach admitted, “It really depends on how fast we gel. But we have the talent to compete with the top teams.” With it feeling like a team can win on “an any given night” in SFU’s division, said Hanson, it will be hard for the Red Leafs to be sitting in first after the regular season. However, Hanson is confident SFU will “be in the playoff hunt at the end of the season.”