UBC Thunderbirds Looking to Build Off Nationals Appearance in 2019-20

Cohee, Jadon (2)
Jadon Cohee and the UBC Thunderbirds are coming off a fifth-place finish at Nationals last season, and they will be looking to build off that this year. (Source: Aldergrove Star) (Header: UBC Thunderbirds)

VANCOUVER, BC — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the UBC Thunderbirds.

2018-19 in Review

All season long, the Thunderbirds were one of the top teams in the Canada West, and that trend carried well into the post-season, and eventually to Nationals.

UBC finished the regular season with a record of 17-3 overall, finishing in second place in the conference standings. They finished three games behind the Calgary Dinos, as the defending National Champions finished the regular season slate with a perfect 20-0 record. By way of their second place finish, the Thunderbirds earned themselves a bye into the Canada West Quarter-finals.

Despite their strong regular season, the Thunderbirds had to work in the post-season with each passing round. In the quarter-finals, UBC was in tough against an upset-mined Fraser Valley Cascades team that was looking to stun the Thunderbirds and shake things up in the playoffs. The Thunderbirds needed three games in their best-of-three series, but came away with a 2-1 series win to advance to the semifinals.

From there, a three-game set with the Alberta Golden Bears was all that stood in the way of UBC and a spot at Nationals. Again, the Thunderbirds had to work for a full three games, but the result ended up being the same. A 2-1 series win over the Golden Bears helped the Thunderbirds punch their ticket to the Canada West Championship Game, and it also earned them a spot in the Final Eight field.

Against the Dinos, the Thunderbirds hung tough for most of the game, but fell short in the end. Calgary kept their undefeated season alive with a 90-75 win.

Still, UBC was off to Nationals as one of three representatives of the Canada West. Despite an early loss, the Thunderbirds still performed well throughout the event, earning themselves a fifth-place finish when all was said and done. UBC kicked things off with a 74-65 loss against the Dalhousie Tigers, but followed that up with wins over Alberta and the Saint Mary’s Huskies to finish in fifth.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the Thunderbirds are looking to use last year’s Nationals experience as motivation to finish higher this time around. They return a veteran core, one that returns four double-digit scorers, and they bring in a recruiting class that features a Canada West veteran transfer.

Who’s Gone?

At their last home game in the 2018-19 regular season, the Thunderbirds honoured their two graduating seniors. One of the two played a significant role with the team last season and throughout his career. Despite not seeing the floor as much, the second member of the graduating class was just as important to the team from both experience and motivation standpoints.

Patrick Simon (Port Coquitlam, BC) capped off his career with a strong 2018-19 season with the Thunderbirds. Simon averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, shooting 41.6% from the field and 71.3% from the free throw line in the process. Simon was a key piece of the Thunderbirds rotation, and Coach Hanson will look to his returning class and incoming recruits to fill the void.

Also graduating from last year’s team is guard Charles Dai (Weifang, China). While Dai saw the floor in just three games over the course of the year, he was one of the five starters on the Thunderbirds’ final home game, as is tradition for most teams across college basketball. In terms of experience and character, UBC will be in tough to replace Dai’s presence.

From an on-court production angle, the Thunderbirds don’t lose a ton from last year’s team. UBC will welcome back the bulk of its offensive production from last year’s team that secured fifth-place at Nationals, and the group will look to improve on that finish this time around.

Who’s Back?

From last year’s team, the Thunderbirds bring back their top four scorers. UBC possesses one of the top back court rotations in the country with their combination of talent and experience, plus they have one of the top young forwards who will look to build off last year’s standout performance.

In the front court, Grant Shephard (Kelowna, BC) is coming off a season in which he broke up as one of the top forwards across U Sports. For the year, Shephard averaged 16.4 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds per game, while blocking a total of 28 shots. Shephard was arguably the Thunderbirds’ most consistent scorer, posting double-digit points on 30 occasions over the course of the year.

On both ends of the floor, Shephard was an impact player in 2018-19. He recorded 11 double-doubles, highlighting his impact in the paint on both sides of the ball. On February 14th against Fraser Valley, Shephard went for 29 points and 12 rebounds in one of his better games of the year.

Shephard was one of two current UBC players selected in the inaugural Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) draft this past summer. He was selected by the Fraser Valley Bandits.

Joining Shephard on the Bandits, and back in a Thunderbirds jersey this season, is guard Mason Bourcier (Kelowna, BC). Described as a glue guy for UBC, Bourcier facilitated the UBC offense last season from the point guard spot. He had five or more assists in 20 games, and he averaged a team-high 5.0 assists per contest. Bourcier also averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47.2% from the field.

The Thunderbirds had a pair of NCAA transfers on their roster last season, and both figure to be back this season for their fifth years of eligibility. Manroop Clair (Surrey, BC) and Jadon Cohee (Langley, BC) both made the move back north of the border last year, and they were both key pieces for the Thunderbirds all season long.

Clair transferred to UBC from the Seattle Redhawks, and he proceeded to finish second on the team in scoring with an average of 18.6 points per contest. Clair recorded 12 games with at least 20 points last season, highlighting his offensive capabilities. From November 1st through to the 30th, a stretch of seven games, Clair posted at least 20 points in each contest.

As for Cohee, he returned to British Columbia after playing with the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. He led UBC in scoring last year with an average of 18.8 points per contest on 43.8% shooting from the field. Like Clair, Cohee was a consistent performer on offense for the Thunderbirds last year, posting double-figures in 31 games. On the glass, Cohee added 4.4 rebounds per game while posting five or more rebounds on 16 occasions.

It’s worth noting that Cohee did not suit up for the Thunderbirds in their exhibition loss to the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, so it’s still unclear as to whether or not he’ll be back at UBC this season.

In terms of depth pieces this year, the Thunderbirds will turn to the likes of Taylor Browne (Surrey, BC) and Grant Audu (Toronto, Ont.). Browne sat out last season, and will be looking to play significant minutes this season as he gets back into the rotation. Audu posted 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season, and he will look to be a prominent part of the rotation once more in 2019-20.

Up and down their roster, the Thunderbirds have guys who can impact the game in many different ways. They have guys who can score, they have guys who are impact players in the paint, and they have a budding point guard who will look to build off last year’s strong season. Add in their recruits, and it’s easy to see why people are high on the Thunderbirds ahead of the regular season.

Incoming Talent

In total, the Thunderbirds have four players committed to the program in their 2019-20 recruiting class, headlined by one of the top scoring guards in the Canada West a season ago. Add in a pair of forwards and another guard from the high school ranks, and the Thunderbirds have added pieces that they feel can help them, both now and into the future.

“We have a good core coming back and have added a couple of pieces that will help us,” said Hanson. “In U Sports, there are so many older players that you need solid veterans have a chance to win and a chance just to get out of your conference.”

Matthews, Triston
High scoring guard Triston Matthews gives UBC yet another weapon on offense. (Source: Kelowna Capital News)

Hanson and the Thunderbirds picked up a veteran on the transfer market with the addition of guard Triston Matthews (North Vancouver, BC). Matthews comes to the Thunderbirds after three years with the UBC Okanagan Heat, bring with him a wealth of experience and knowledge of the Canada West.

Last season, his third year with the Heat, Matthews was one of the league’s more consistent scorers. He posted double-digit points in all but two of the team’s conference games, averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game for the year. In addition to his offensive production, Matthews added 7.2 rebounds per contest.

Alongside Matthews, the Thunderbirds added a trio of players that will help the program both now and into the future. Two players hail from British Columbia, while they dipped into the talent pool in Alberta for their third.

Forwards Jeevan Sidhu (Surrey, BC) and Toni Maric (Vancouver, BC) will add size to the front court rotation, while guard Alex Nwoye (Strathmore, Alta.) will give the Thunderbirds a strong back court member after their seniors graduate this season. Sidhu stands at 6’6” and will add versatility to the lineup, while Maric gives the team a big body inside with his 6’8” frame.

With their returning group of players and their incoming recruits, are the UBC Thunderbirds the team to beat in the Canada West this season?

One could definitely make the case that they are. With their level of experience and talent up and down their roster, the Thunderbirds will be competing atop the Canada West standings all season long. The likes of the Dinos, Golden Bears, and Regina Cougars will look to spoil their party, making the Canada West race one to watch all year.

Last season, they finished in fifth place. This season, the Thunderbirds know what it takes to win at Nationals, and they have their sights set squarely on making it back to the Final Eight and building off last year’s performance.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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