Badgers heading to Halifax
Customers sitting in Cat’s Caboose Sunday night may have been wondering what was going on when a cheer erupted from a table of Brock athletics staffers, which included men’s basketball coach Charles Kissi and his coaching staff, athletic director Neil Lumsden, assistant athletic director Chris Critelli and others.
It was Kissi and the rest of the gathering hearing the news via e-mail that the Brock men’s basketball team had received a wildcard berth in this week’s national championships in Halifax.
“The last time I read it it said ‘Unfortunately’ and I didn’t even read the rest,” said Kissi, referring to last year when Brock didn’t receive a berth despite a successful season that culminated in a bronze medal at the Ontario University Athletics championships. “This one came with a congratulations and I could barely read the rest of it.
“There was a group of us that were out at the restaurant and there was a nice little cheer and that was it.”
The Brock players found out shortly after Kissi heard the news. Fourth-year guard Johneil Simpson, who shares a house with six of his teammates, said they were thrilled.
“It was pretty exciting after what happened last year,” the Toronto native said. “We didn’t have much expectations because we felt we got snubbed. We were sitting back hoping they would make the right decision.”
After not getting into the national tournament last season, the Brock coaching staff paid close attention all season to the criteria for how the wildcard teams are selected for the national championships.
“We were paying a little more attention this time,” Kissi said, with a laugh. “My manager tracked it all year. We didn’t talk about it or anything, but it was there.”
Based on that criteria, Brock knew it should going to be going to the nationals in Halifax, but no one was taking anything for granted.
“You don’t know until they tell you,” Kissi said. “You never know what is going to be decided and, until you get that e-mail, nothing is official.”
Kissi is in his fifth year as head coach at Brock program and his team’s arrival on the national stage is keeping with the timeline he had in mind when he took the job.
“We are right on schedule,” he said. “Year 1 was unscripted, I guess, but we are right at where we sort of set out to be and we are fortunate to have done that.”
Kissi’s plan was to build a program and not just a team that would make it to the nationals and be done. With the players he has and the recruits he has continued to bring in, Brock is hoping it is poised for a recurring role at the national championships.
“I couldn’t say it any better than you just did,” Kissi said.
Brock opens the tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. versus second-seeded Calgary and the tournament is truly a grind. To win a national title, a team needs to win three games in four days.
“It is absolutely a grind, but that’s what you play the pre-season for,” Kissi said. “In our pre-season, we had Calgary and Ryerson and we had an Ottawa/Carleton weekend. We have all these games that are tough and they all prepare you for this point.”
The tough schedule means that Brock will require contributions from everyone to succeed.
“You need everybody all of the time because you never know what will happen,” Kissi said. “You never what it will look like and we will need the trainers more than anybody.”
Kissi is confident his team is structured to succeed.
“Our guys are built to last,” he said. “Our bench will have to play well and our starters will have to play well.
“Every minute will count.”
The focus for Brock will be to take advantage of the opportunity,” Simpson said. “We all realize how special this is and we have a chance to do something special. Everyone is focused and we can’t look too far ahead.”
The preseason win over Calgary doesn’t mean much in Simpson’s mind.
“It helps that we beat them and we have some idea on what to expect, but that’s the preseason and they’ve gotten a lot better as we have,” he said. “You can’t really rely on it much.”
Brock will have to be disciplined and engaged in order to be successful at the nationals.
“We have to appreciate every moment, realize this is a special opportunity and for a lot of guys, they may never get back there,” Simpson said. “It’s living in the moment and playing every possession like it’s your last.”
Brock will fly to Halifax Tuesday, attend the banquet and practice Wednesday and be ready to rumble Thursday.
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