EDMONTON, Alberta — As the saying goes, the third time is the charm.
For members of the Alberta Golden Bears men’s basketball team, their fans, and the rest of the athletics department, many are hoping that statement holds true in 2018-19. The Golden Bears have advanced to each of the last two national championship tournaments, but haven’t been able to bring a title back to Edmonton.
In 2017-18, the Golden Bears entered the tournament as the Canada West silver medalists, having lost to the Calgary Dinos in the title game. They were the Canada West regular season champions, posting a record of 19-1 against league competition. They were unable to turn that into a post-season league title, but they earned themselves a spot in the Final 8, regardless.
Alberta dropped both of their contests in the national championship tournament. In the quarter-finals, they fell to the Ryerson Rams, 88-62. Then, in the consolation semi-finals the next day, the Golden Bears saw their season come to an end by way of a 92-87 defeat at the hands of the Acadia Axemen.
Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, the Golden Bears have their sights set on a third straight trip to the U Sports Final 8 Tournament, which will take place in Halifax. With a healthy mix of returning stars and talented freshmen on this year’s roster, head coach Barnaby Craddock has a roster that should contend for yet another league crown.
In league play, the Golden Bears rolled out a high-octane offense that could put up points in bunches. In 20 league games, they averaged over 85 points per game as a cohesive unit. Across exhibition play, the regular season, and the post-season, Alberta topped 90 points on 15 occasions.
The Golden Bears topped 100 points in six games over the course of the year.
Over the course of the season, the Golden Bears used a deep roster on a nightly basis. All 12 players saw action in at least 14 league games, with seven players having played in all 20 games against Canada West opponents. Alberta had three players average at least 14.8 points per game, while eight players in total averaged 4.7 points per game or more.
In 2018-19, the Golden Bears will have a healthy mix of veterans and incoming freshmen, all of whom have talent on the court. In total, six freshmen and two red-shirt freshmen will see action this season, along with the five returnees from last year’s Canada West silver medal team.
Leading the way will be all-star forward Brody Clarke. Last season, Clarke was named an all-star by both Canada West and U Sports after a spectacular campaign. As a junior in 2017-18, Clarke finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game on 54.4% shooting from the floor. His 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game led the Golden Bears.
Clarke’s ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor helped him earn the pair of all-star accolades.
Out of the gate, Clarke started the season slow, scoring a combined 12 points in the Golden Bears’ first two games of the season against the Trinity Western Spartans. From there, he found his groove and was a double-digit scoring machine the rest of the year, as he was held to single digits just once over the rest of the regular season. After the Christmas break, Clarke recorded seven double-doubles over Alberta’s final 10 games of the regular season.
With leading scorer Austin Waddoups having signed to play professionally in Denmark, Clarke is now the top producer back with the team in 2018-19.
The front court is sitting pretty with the return of Clarke, but the back court will have its question marks given all the talent that they lost from last year’s team. With Lyndon Annetts, Geoff Pippus, and Waddoups all gone from last year’s team, the lone regulars back in the mix this season are Dwan Williams and Andre Kelly.
As a sophomore in 2017-18, Kelly played in all 20 league games off the bench for Coach Craddock, averaging 15.3 minutes per outing. Kelly averaged 5.9 points and 1.8 assists per contest.
Williams was a regular in the starting lineup last season for Alberta, making 19 starts in 20 league appearances. He posted 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Both Williams and Kelly didn’t post the biggest numbers in limited action last season, but with the high turnover in the back court from last season, both will factor into expanded roles for the Golden Bears in 2018-19. The pair will also be looked upon to provide veteran leadership for the incoming freshmen, a group that includes some talented guards.
Lars Ishimwe, a 6’3” guard from Edmonton, is a guard that Coach Craddock says could very well be in the conversation for one of the fastest players in the country at pushing the ball up the floor. Utah native Tyus Jefferson will be looked upon to take on a big role right out of the gate for Alberta, while Avery Hutcheson has been described as “a gritty, competitive guard.”
Despite the high turnover from last year’s team, the Golden Bears have assembled a talented roster that should contend once again in the Canada West Conference. With the talent across the league as a whole, it’s expected that Alberta may take a step back from last year’s 19-1 record. Still, they boast one of the top forwards in the country in Clarke, and they have a talented group of freshmen on the roster.
Don’t be surprised if Alberta is in the mix for yet another spot in the U Sports Final 8 Championships come the end of February.
– T. Bennett