Extreme Makeover

(Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

At this time five years ago, the Kwantlen University College Eagles men’s basketball team was gearing up for another BCCAA season. They had a couple of veterans on the roster, a few returning players and a host of young rookies waiting to shine in their post-secondary debut.

The team didn’t win a single game.

Fast-forward to today, and a lot has changed. They dropped the University College and it’s now known as a Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  The mouthful of a league, BCCAA (British Columbia Collegiate Athletic Association) is now dubbed the PacWest. Kwantlen’s head coaching position, occupied by long-time local Doug Dowell during that forgettable 2006-07 season, now belongs to Michigan native and first-time bench boss Stefon Wilson. The roster back then looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, with nine of the 10 players being white. The current makeup of the Eagles is a diverse group, with 85 percent of the team of African, East Indian and Asian heritages.

From 2006 to 2011, KPU has been a magnet of high hopes and inconsistency. After the winless 2006-07 campaign, the Eagles have gone a combined 41-101. Twenty-three of those victories came from exhibitions, and of the remaining 18 Ws, nine of them were against either Columbia Bible College or Quest University.

You don’t need the university’s GPA chart to tell you that that’s an F.

But in those 5 years of incredibly lopsided win-loss columns, Kwantlen basketball has had some bright moments and exceptional individual talent.

In 2006, the Eagles only had three returning players from the previous season. In 2007 they managed to bring back four, and again three in 2008. Players didn’t want to stick around the Newton campus. And who could blame them? There were few star recruits and even fewer wins.

At this time, other colleges in the BCCAA were recruiting local studs, provincial team players and drawing from a huge talent pool east of the Rockies that was virtually untapped by teams in B.C. Kwantlen couldn’t plead ignorance and say that the Fraser Valley didn’t boast stellar basketball talent. Prep powerhouses like White Rock Christian Academy, North Delta, Brookswood and Terry Fox sat right in Kwantlen’s backyard, so what was stopping the coaches and athletic directors from reaching out to these programs? Before 2008, your guess was as good as mine. Then in the ’08-’09 season, a switch flipped and the Eagles looked like they might just be headed in the right direction.

Bench boss Bernie Love was blessed with a loaded incoming freshman class consisting of Terry Fox 6’4” do-it-all forward Omid Davani; 6’1” former B.C. Provincial Team member Devon Carney from Guildford Park; and a lanky, young promising talent from North Delta, Varinder Singh. This is what everyone was waiting for, maybe not the bluest of chips, but these young guns matched with three returning players and a decent supporting cast had a chance to bring Kwantlen out of the BCCAA’s cellar.

The reloaded Eagles were impressive in the preseason, finishing with a 6-3 record. Kwantlen recorded two hard-fought victories during that exhibition schedule against Camosun and Vancouver Island University, and won their last three tilts to gain momentum going into the regular season grind. Davani was emerging as a provincial force, guiding the Eagles to a respectable 8-10 regular season and a 17-19 record overall.

Looks like Love had his summer of 2009 cut out for him: keep his stars, bring in more solid rookies, and build a strong supporting cast. Seems simple right?

Not so much.

Carney left the team, and Davani went the one-and-done route and transferred to the University of Victoria.

Love’s task got a little lot harder.

Incredibly though, the quick-tempered, long-time, on-and-off-again Love managed to surpass the bar he set in 2008 by snagging another decorated list of newcomers. Seaquam sharpshooter Dustin Egelstad, a former provincial team player and the leading scorer in the 2009 B.C. AAA Provincials, was hands down the purest scorer that Kwantlen had seen in a while, and looked to be the answer for the loss of Davani. Doug Meyers, another Team B.C. product, was a coach’s dream. He was a incredibly cerebral player. And to round out the new pickups, Love signed an uber-athletic Ali Bosir from nearby Princess Margaret Seconday, and had fifth-year-senior Lenny Piprah return to the school that gave him his start after a brief stint at Simon Fraser.

The Eagles posted another 6-3 record over the course of the 2009-10 preseason, notably knocking off reigning national champion Douglas College, Capilano in two straight, and Camosun College. In the regular season, they went 7-11 and won four of their last five, narrowly missing the playoffs and finishing the season 14-15 overall. The remarkable thing about that near-.500 record was the fact that Egelstad become academically ineligible early into the season, and out of the 13 players that Kwantlen had on their roster in September, only eight of them remained on the team at year’s end.

Let’s recap what has happened up to this point. Kwantlen is terrible, guided by the wrong ideologies and entrusted to the wrong mix of players. They shuffle and retool both the staff and roster, improving each exponentially. They begin to recruit blue-chip players, and the wins start to stack up quicker than Egelstad’s homework.

Naturally, Love’s only option is to beef up his recruiting in hopes of creating some sort of consistency that the Eagles have longed for.

It’s tough to measure the talent that Love acquired for the 2010-’11 season. Harpreet Randhawa was without a doubt a raw, 6’8” forward with a great touch and even better work ethic. Didar Grewel and Mark Dabrowski, both former provincial team players, provided the Eagles with players who are bred to excel in post-secondary ball. Meyers and Bosir, the nucleus of the team, were both returning after impressive rookie campaigns. The only player on the roster that had been with Kwantlen for more than two years was Singh, and his experience and leadership was invaluable to this rookie-laden squad.

Singh went down early with a knee injury, done for the season. Meyers got unlucky halfway through the year, another knee issue. Rookie point guard Julio Epondulon left the team. The team struggled in the preseason, beating only CBC and Canadian Mennonite University en route to a dismal 2-8 record. The struggles continued throughout the regular season, as the Eagles went a 2006-esque 1-17. Love announced that he was stepping down in February.

Which brings us to the current season. Downside: Randhawa transferred to Douglas. Meyers is gone, along with nine other players from the 2010-11 season, and the entire coaching and training staff has left. Upside: Singh and Bosir, two players who have seemed to defy the Kwantlen stereotype, are back.

From 2006 to 2010, the number of returning players was three, three, four, three, and finally two in 2010. Imagine that the Eagles’ basketball team represented the enrollment for a specific program at Kwantlen. So let’s say that the university has 300 first-year students that declare history as their major. Then each year, for various reasons, 225 of those students drop out of Kwantlen, effectively decimating the program. The department would lose professors, funding, and any sort of a reputation it had built.

Stefon Wilson, Love’s replacement, has a lot to prove this season. He’s done well so far by recruiting former provincial team player Tristan Gruenthaler; 2009 AAA provincial champion with St. Georges, William Takyi-Prah; explosive point guard A.J. Adusei; two guards from Toronto; a few locals; and an import from Wilson’s home of Michigan, David Poole.

If you judge Wilson’s recruiting moves so far compared to previous strategies employed by Love, it looks like Kwantlen basketball is ready to start something that should’ve started years ago.

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1 thought on “Extreme Makeover

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