CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI — They weren’t expected to achieve much success this season, but that only added fuel to the fire for the UPEI Panthers in 2018-19.
At the holiday break, the Panthers sit at 3-4 on the year and find themselves in sixth place in the AUS standings. They opened the season with three straight wins, but have since lost four in a row to lose any positive momentum they had at their backs from their strong start to the year. But, there is still plenty of basketball remaining in the year, and every day provides the Panthers with another opportunity to get better.
Each day also gives the team another opportunity to prove people wrong, something they’ve set out to do this season.
On the heels of a down 2017-18 season, the Panthers came into the new year looking up at the rest of the conference. In the preseason poll, the Panthers were projected to finish in last place in the league by a long shot. After a rough showing in the preseason, the projections looked like they would play out in the regular season.
But, through seven games, the Panthers have shown that preseason rankings are nothing more than background noise.
“We didn’t have a very good record at the end of our preseason, so we could not be surprised by the ranking,” said UPEI Head Coach Darrell Glenn when asked about the team’s preseason ranking.
The Panthers entered the season with just one preseason win to their name, and that came in their own event that they hosted. In the Mickey Place Memorial Basketball Tournament, the Panthers picked up an 86-69 win over the Humber Hawks on the final day to close out the event.
Outside of that, the Panthers were unable to find the win column heading into the season. Coach Glenn and the rest of the coaching staff had a simple message for the team as the season got under way.
“Our focus is always on getting better everyday in practice, so that was the message,” continued Glenn. “Let’s just get better everyday.”
Given the way that UPEI started the regular season, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that the team had just one win in the preseason. With added fuel on their fire after the preseason rankings came out, the Panthers rattled off three straight wins to begin the season with a 3-0 record. A pair of wins over the Memorial Sea-hawks at home and a road win over the Acadia Axemen saw the Panthers kick off the 2018-19 AUS season with a bang.
After their hot start, the Panthers have come back down to Earth a bit and sit at 3-4 at the midway point of the season.
Entering the holiday break having lost their last four contests, the Panthers have seen all of their positive momentum disappear. In fact, all four of their losses have come by double-digit margins. Their final game of the fall semester, a 90-64 loss to the New Brunswick Reds on the road, was their first four-point game of the season.
“This a very good league with lots of talented players and the coaches do a great job prepping their teams for competition each week,” continued Glenn. “Regrettably, our team didn’t get better in some very specific areas and teams were able to exploit that.”
“We have to pay more attention to our scout reports as a group and we have to get in the gym and work on our areas of weakness.”
Still, given their recent string of results, the message still remains the same: get better every day.
The message holds a significant level of importance for the young Panthers this season. They have just one player in each of their third, fourth, and fifth years of eligibility. Nine others on the team are either first or second-year student-athletes. As a team, the Panthers are considerably young, but their veterans play a big role with the team, especially Amin Suleman and Milorad Sedlarevic.
“Amin and Milorad bring a wealth of experience and they understand the challenges of how difficult it is to get wins in this league,” added Glenn. “They both bring an incredible amount of energy, and effort to practice every day and they have been great examples for our young players on what it takes to improve at this level.”
Not surprisingly, Suleman is the team’s top scorer through seven games, leading a group of three players in double-figures with 11.6 points per game. In seven league games, Suleman has recorded double-digit points in five games. He went for a season-best 19 points in the Panthers’ season opener against Memorial. Suleman also leads the team with 2.3 assists per game.
Sedlarevic is not far behind, ranking third on the team with 10.7 points per contest. He is shooting under 29% for the season across seven appearances, but look for that to change in the second half.
While the veterans have led the way this season, the Panthers have to be pleased with the play of their first-year talents. Jamesley Jerome, a 6’7” forward from Montreal, QC ranks second on the team in scoring with an average of 11.0 points per game in three games. He also leads the team in rebounds, averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest.
Brothers Nudy Georges (6.0 ppg) and Judy Georges (6.9 ppg) have performed well in the back court in their debut seasons with the Panthers. The 6’3” guards will look to build on a strong first half of the season when the holiday break comes to an end and help UPEI climb in the AUS standings and contend for a playoff spot.
With many of their players having minimal experience at the U Sports level in Canada, growing pains were to be expected this season. The Panthers have exceeded expectations to this point in the season, posting a 3-4 record to sit in sixth-place in the AUS standings at the break.
The Panthers have a lot of basketball left to play this season, and that means plenty of opportunities to make moves in the standings. If nothing else, the younger group of players will gain a ton of experience which will help strengthen the team as a whole and make everyone better for the future. Given what has transpired to this point in the season, Glenn and the rest of the coaching staff have a talented group that will only grow as young men and improve on the court as the days come and go.
On and off the court, the message and focus remains the same for the Panthers.
Use each and every day to improve from the day before.
– T. Bennett