Brock basketball: started from the bottom

Brock men’s basketball prepare for biggest basketball game in Niagara history at the Meridian Centre

Three years ago, Charles Kissi was brought in as the new head coach for the Brock men’s basketball program. He was taking over a program that last won a National title in 2007-08, which was the team’s second CIS title ever. However, the year prior to Kissi’s first season the Badgers finished 8-13, which led to a desire for change.

The obvious goal for Kissi coming in was to get the program back to the top. Though it’s a process to do so, it is clear that the moment Kissi took his first steps onto campus as the new coach, he had a clear vision to building a successful program. His first two recruiting moves have worked out so that he now has both the 2013-14 OUA Rookie of the Year and the 2014-15 OUA Rookie of the Year on his roster.

Being hired late in the recruiting process after the 2012-13 season, it was difficult for Kissi to recruit a big name in his first year, or at least that’s what most would assume. However, Kissi made one of the biggest phone calls that led to the program finding a new path to success.

Dani Elgadi, a 6’7 forward was finishing up his fifth year of high school and already had several universities pursuing him.

“I was being recruited by schools all over Canada: out east, out west and in Ontario,” said Elgadi. “Growing up I didn’t like the recruiting process at all. It was tough for me because I never had family that had been to university, so I’m the first in my family.”

Dani Elgadi (left) and Johneil Simpson (right) share their story on being back-to-back Rookie of the Years; Christy Mitchell/ The Brock Press

Dani Elgadi (left) and Johneil Simpson (right) share their story on being back-to-back Rookie of the Years;
Christy Mitchell/ The Brock Press

Before committing to Brock, the Waterloo native had already committed to the University of New Brunswick. It was his choice to go as far away from home as possible. Elgadi wanted to experience something new. However, something had happened with the program at UNB and it didn’t work out for Elgadi. He then began looking at the University of British Columbia or another university out west. Still without a commitment, Kissi made the call to Elgadi.

“Kissi picked up the phone and the awesome thing was when you talk with coaches it’s kind of awkward sometimes,” said Elgadi. “With Kissi we picked up the phone and ended up talking for an hour and a half. He talked to me about his life and I talked to him about my life.”

Kissi’s first move as the Brock head coach was a big one. He had convinced one of the most highly touted freshman to forget about going far away from home, and instead come to a program that was at rock bottom.

In their first year together, Kissi and Elgadi saw the team struggle more than it had in a long-time. The team finished with a 4-18 record which put them last in the OUA west division. In his rookie season, Elgadi led the OUA west in scoring, averaging 19.5-points and 10.4-rebounds. Earning Rookie of the Year was great, but the program still had away to go to become successful.

“[When] I started playing I wasn’t always athletic. I was like the short, skinny and weak guy,” said Elgadi in regards to him growing up playing basketball. “I just got tall and athletic. More importantly, I practiced every day and all summer.”

From a small and skinny player to Rookie of the Year, Elgadi has essentially become the face of the Brock program.

“You don’t normally worry about your individual awards,” said Elgadi. “Kissi let me play, he let me make mistakes, and he coached me through the struggles and challenges.”

“He would see me facing an opponent stronger than me at the time, and he told me to take him head on. He said, ‘these are the walls you have to break down if you want to be a great player,” said Elgadi.

Together, the two made for a great start after one year. But they both knew that they needed to work together to continue the build. After their rookie seasons as coach and player, Kissi began his recruitment process again, in which Elgadi played a role. Their eyes were set on Toronto native Johneil Simpson, a 6’5 guard.

“After high school I didn’t go right into university, [instead I] took a couple years off,” explained Simpson. “I just narrowed it down to Brock and Nipissing University, because they were starting up a new CIS program.”

Nipissing would have given Simpson a chance to headline a new program and try to bring it up in the ranks. However, after a couple workouts with Kissi and meeting Elgadi, Simpson decided Brock was the better fit. It was the beginning of a trio that is now on the path to greatness.

In Simpson’s rookie season the Bagders improved to a 7-12 record, but still not exactly where they wanted to be. The guard would go onto follow Elgadi’s footsteps of being named OUA Rookie of the Year, averaging 19.2-points on 39.6 per cent shooting from the field. Simpson would also be named CIS Rookie of the Year.

Johneil Simpson takes control of the Badgers’ offense; Photo credit: GoBadgers.ca

Johneil Simpson takes control of the Badgers’ offense;
Photo credit: GoBadgers.ca

Elgadi and Simpson, became the sixth and seventh players, respectively in Brock basketball’s history to be named OUA Rookies of the Year. Brock now has six players to win the award in the last 11 years. It was also the second time in school history a duo won the award back-to-back, as Didi Mukendi and Clinton Springer-Williams did it back in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

“I didn’t have any expectations, because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Simpson. “I just came in working hard and luckily like Elgadi, I had an opportunity to play, something a lot of rookies don’t get in their first year.”

Simpson’s love for basketball began at a young age. “Both my parents were huge basketball fans, and where I grew up, basketball was part of the everyday life,” said Simpson. “I grew up watching Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and obviously Vince Carter, being from Toronto.”

From Kissi’s first year, to bringing in Elgadi and then Simpson, the Brock basketball program is back to what it has been known for. Beginning the 2015-16 season nationally ranked at number four, the men are on their way to a great turnaround season as together the three men have been able to bring more talent and depth onto the roster.

“It makes it way easier to recruit,” said Elgadi on being back-to-back Rookie of the Years. “It lets young players know that our coach knows what he’s doing and he knows what he’s talking about. He told me he saw something in me, and he told Simpson the same thing.”

Not only is this program expected to win its division and make the playoffs this year, it has the chance to make some big noise once the playoffs begin. It’s still early in the season, but things look bright for the program’s future.

Kissi came in, had a vision and brought in players who believed in the vision. Elgadi and Simpson are a foundation to creating one of the nation’s best university teams this season. With an improved roster around the duo, the Badgers are starting to believe they can win.

The team will also make history on Nov. 28 when they play host to Lakehead. A game that will be played at the Meridian Centre, and is expected to be the biggest basketball game the Niagara region has ever seen.

“The reason I love the [Niagara] region is because the support has always been there,” said Elgadi. “This Meridian game is exciting, and it’s about us giving back to the supporters. Let’s put Niagara on the map and bring attention to this region.”

The men, along with the women’s team will travel to York and Queen’s this upcoming weekend, before their home opener weekend gets started on Nov. 27 as they host Lakehead in the Bob Davis Gymnasium.

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