VIU men finding their range

The 2011-12 Mariners basketball team is a group of players that could certainly return to nationals.

Vancouver Island University Mariners basketball player Brandon Jones

Vancouver Island University Mariners basketball player Brandon Jones

The VIU Mariners scored a breakthrough last year, achieving their goal of a provincial championship. Then, when they got to nationals, they discovered they might need to set their sights even higher.

So that’s what they’ve done. The 2011-12 Mariners are a group of players who could certainly return to nationals, and what’s more, go one better than bronze when they get there.

Coach Tony Bryce said he drew from the experience of last year’s big tournament and set out to add athleticism and experience.

“We’ve got a bunch of new personalities and new characters and new impact-type guys,” said Bryce. “It’s going to take some time for that to come together, maybe moreso than in past years, but the potential’s there.”

It’s more of a recharge than a reset. The team graduated its top scorer Andrew Kaban, but the rest of the core returns, led by high-scoring point guard Jacob Thom and fierce rebounder Patrick McCarthy.

The newcomers include a pair of Americans – guard Brandon Jones and forward Richard Townsend – who can both be top scorers. Two other additions are Nanaimo products Greg Gillies and Jason McKee. Gillies, part of Dover Bay’s 2007 B.C. high school championship team, is a versatile high-energy forward; McKee, who led last year’s Dover team, plays with full effort.

“I don’t think this group’s going to be outstanding early, but I think in the end this group has the potential to be maybe the best group we’ve ever had,” said Bryce.

Players have to work at it and take baby steps over the course of the season, he said.

“It’s coming along,” said McCarthy. “It always takes time every year … We always make it work.”

Bryce schedules incredibly difficult pre-seasons every fall and this year was more of the same, with games against NCAA, NAIA and CIS teams.

It means the M’s should be ready to jump into the Pacific Western Athletic Association’s regular-season play starting Friday (Nov. 11) against the Langara Falcons.

“The league’s going to be extremely tough,” said Bryce. “I think that in itself will help get you ready for the national tournament if you’re lucky enough to make it.”

GAME ON … VIU faces Langara Friday at 8 p.m. at the Vancouver Island University gym, then hosts the Kwantlen Eagles on Saturday at 3 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and alumni and $2 for VIU students … For a preview of the VIU women’s basketball team, please click here.