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Hopes high for hoops team

Brad Parker / The Brunswickan

Brad Parker / The Brunswickan

The 2013-14 season was a proverbial roller coaster ride for the UNB Varsity Reds men’s basketball team.

The team started the year off strong and in the first half of the season was ranked ninth overall in the country. Midway through the year, however, the V-Reds were hit by a string of injuries and suffered a lengthy losing streak, before eventually recapturing their winning ways and securing a fifth place seeding in the playoffs.

Unfortunately for UNB, the team’s season ended on a heartbreaking note, losing a quarterfinal playoff game by one point to St. Francis Xavier University.

Despite the disappointing end to a dramatic finish, head coach Brent Baker remains positive about the season.

“We still had some big highlights, regardless of the final outcome,” said Baker. “Javon Masters was the rookie of the year for the entire country and a second team all-Canadian, while also leading the country in scoring.”

Going into the 2014-15 season, the Varsity Reds roster boasts a number of new additions to the team, as well as the loss of several key players.

“We lost Dan Quirion, who played for UNB for five years and was a four-time Academic All-Canadian. Most importantly, however, he was a huge leader in our locker room and a great player on the court in his own right.”

The team has added two promising young players to its roster. Jesse Kendall, from Guelph, Ont., is a proven three point shooter who is rapidly improving in a number of areas of his game. Nikola Mandic, a forward from Belgrade, Serbia, had a strong weekend at the Capers Fall Classic, helping the team go 3-0.

“Nikola gives us some size up front and is an excellent defender. He’s starting to find his niche where he can make some big plays for us.

“Will McFee is also having a fantastic pre-season, but that’s what you come to expect from your fifth-year players,” said Baker. “Jordan Irvine and Ryan Smith are both also fifth-year guys, and they’ve manned up and are taking care of the role of power forward.”

Hussein Egal, returning for his second year with the team, has been shaky in the pre-season but is expected to play a larger role this season.

Another player who has stepped up their game this year is Dylan Baker, a second-year player from Narre Warren, Australia.

“Over the last five games he has really come on defensively,” said Baker. “Not all of his stats show up on the official score sheet, but he locks the strongest opposing players down every night.”

Baker cited his performance against the University of Calgary’s star player, Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson, who he held to only nine points in their Oct. 26 game.

“Dylan can guard multiple positions, is always ready to take on the challenge and is not easily intimidated. He does a great job defensively for us.”

And then there’s Masters, the rookie who captured the country’s attention last season.

“Javon is picking up where he left off last year, and has made improvements to his game over the summer,” said Baker. “He’s out front making plays on the court and that’s where we’re most effective.”

In 10 pre-season games thus far, Masters has yet to score less than 20 points per game, and has been contributing at both ends of the court.

Baker cited the pre-season as an opportunity not only to iron out the kinks on the court, but also to develop off-court relationships amongst the team.

“Traveling a long distance with the group and putting them all in a confined space really shows you who your team is,” the coach laughed.

“Going to Toronto and winning two of three games was really big for our program and we had a surprisingly large alumni presence at our games.”

The Varsity Reds have had a successful pre-season, posting a 9-2 record. That includes a 2-1 showing at the Eric Garland Tournament, a 2-1 record during their trip to Toronto and winning all three of their games at the Capers Fall Classic.

Looking toward the weekend’s regular season games against Acadia, Baker is gearing up for some tough matches. The Reds host the Axemen on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.

“They definitely have some talent on their team. Ben Miller, the rookie from Manitoba, is a very strong player. Kyle Arsenault, a Fredericton native, has had 30 plus points in several games this season.

“We’ll have our hands full with Acadia because they always play us very tough. They actually do better on the road against our team, so we’ll have to make sure they don’t get away from us on our own court.”

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