When the Western men’s basketball team takes the floor for their regular season opener this Saturday at Alumni Hall, it will be a very different Mustangs team than the ones we have seen in seasons past.
The departures of the Mustangs’ three leading scorers from last season, including Western’s all-time scoring leader, Greg Morrow along with vocal leader Tony Spiridis and low-post scorer Peter Scholtes, leave this team young and inexperienced, causing many to view this as a rebuilding year for the program.
Last season the Mustangs had a relatively successful campaign, hosting a playoff game against Lakehead after finishing the regular season 11-9. Unfortunately, the Mustangs could not pull off the victory at home and their season came to an end after a late three-point shot sealed the win for Lakehead.
This year, despite their relative inexperience, head coach Brad Campbell has high expectations for this group while acknowledging that they will have to find new ways to win games this season.
“As a goal, hosting a playoff game this year would be a great achievement for this group,” Campbell said.
Campbell recognizes that the team will need effort throughout the lineup for the Mustangs to compete in Ontario University Athletics.
“We’re probably a little deeper this year but don’t have those one or two key guys," Campbell added. "So if we’re going to be successful it is going to have to be a collective effort and we will need to have a lot of guys scoring in double figures as opposed to one or two that have over 20."
To start the season, the Mustangs are expected to roll out Alex Coote, Jedson Tavernier, Alex Otzyv, Nik Farkic and Eriq Jenkins as their starting five, a group with only six years of collective experience in the Canadian college game. What this group lacks in experience they will attempt to make up for with tempo and energy.
“We are trying to play at a faster pace this season, especially offensively,” explained Campbell. “We think we are going to get it to a point where we are very tough to play against.”
A factor in the starting five who could play a huge role in the outcome of this Mustang’s season is 6’0” guard Eriq Jenkins. Jenkins is a Windsor Ontario native who recently transferred to the program from Le Moyne College – a Division II National Collegiate Athletic Association school based in Syracuse, New York.
He is an extremely athletic guard who will be called upon to produce in a number of different facets of the game in order for the team to succeed. Although he likely can't replace the scoring of Greg Morrow or the defense of Tom Filgiano single handedly, Jenkins will be a crucial part of a group of players who will need to step up to make up for these key personnel losses.
This season will also feature some rookies playing prominent roles for the Mustangs with the recruitments of Ontario-born guards Omar Shiddo and Tyler Thomson. Both of these players are highly regarded recruits who will be expected to come off the bench and produce for the Mustangs on both sides of the floor. Although they will likely contribute this season, what is more intriguing is their potential as cornerstone pieces of this program for the next five years.
This year’s U Sports campaign begins this Nov. 5 at home against the Guelph Gryphons, which could prove to be a difficult opener for these Mustangs. The Gryphons are a defensively sound, well-coached team but most importantly they return all 5 starters from a team that defeated the Mustangs last year in Guelph. If the Mustangs want to be a serious threat this season they have to take care of business and take down more experienced groups, starting this Saturday.
Another game to look forward to this season is Friday Jan. 6 at home vs Queen's, where the Mustangs will look to avenge last season’s OT loss to the rival Gaels. Additionally, Western is slated for a home and home against their rivals, the Windsor Lancers, on Jan. 11 and Jan. 14.
This season will be an exciting one as the Mustangs try to prove to the U Sports world that this young, inexperienced team can compete.