The greatest year in Brock men’s basketball history that didn’t include a U Sports national championship has come to an end. The program is coming off a season high 21-wins, a top three rank nationally all season, a berth to the national tournament for the first time in 10 seasons and winning two of three games in Halifax.
Which begs the question: what’s next? Head coach Charles Kissi has no interest in the discussion of taking a step back and expects his team to be back in Halifax in 2019, where the national tournament will be held again.
“We feel like we are good enough to be there, now we have to start all over and work our way back,” said Kissi.
The 2017-18 Badgers feel they were good enough to play in the 6:00 p.m. (Halifax time) game on March 11, but a two-point loss to start the tournament to the eventual champs Calgary, ended any hope of that.
The Badgers have been working to get to the national tournament for five years, when Kissi took over the program in 2013. The coach had a five-year plan and had goals he wanted to achieve each year.
“One of the things for us is our guys have been ready and they have been building to this point,” said Kissi.
The coach’s first year saw a four-win season, followed by seven victories a year later and 13 wins three years ago. Last year was the big step forward with 15 wins and an OUA bronze medal – they believe they belonged in the national tournament last year as well.
However, with the first five years in the book and the program at the level Kissi wants, he’s ready to see his team continue to grow but they’ll have to do to it without Dani Elgadi.
The graduating forward was the first recruiting piece for Kissi in 2013, and it was the start to a quick turnaround. Elgadi became the cornerstone and eventually one of the greatest to ever wear a Badger jersey.
“You talk about going out like a champion, he went out that way,” said Kissi. Elgadi received a standing ovation from the Brock crowd that was present at Scotiabank Centre. “Across the country, there are players that are more stars that give to their program and give to their university, and Dani is one of those players. He’s completely selfless in building what we have created and doing it for more than himself. If we had to start it all over I’d pick him again.”
Kissi was lucky to pick Elgadi in the first place, as the Waterloo native had originally committed to the University of New Brunswick, but due to issues with his academic program at UNB, Elgadi became a free agent.
“Would we have loved to have Dani in our lineup with him [Javon Masters] for five years, sure, but those things happen,” said UNB head coach Brent Baker. “The kid ended up landing on his feet.”
Nonetheless, Elgadi ended up having a career that will be remembered at Brock for many years.
“Special, I had a great run,” said Elgadi about his years at Brock. “Surprisingly, its not the accolades or the highlight plays I will remember, it’s the moments I’ve spent with my team, the road trips, the laughs we have had. Not just my teammates, but the coaching staff and the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet, that’s all coming together now.”
Following the issues with UNB, Elgadi fell in the hands of Brock and Kissi, which helped land future recruits.
One of those players includes, Johneil Simpson, who now takes on the torch from Elgadi alongside forward Cassidy Ryan.
“One heck of a player, one heck of a career,” said Simpson about Elgadi.
As much as the conversation and attention following the win over Acadia last Sunday was on Elgadi, questions started to be asked about the Badgers program. Is next year a rebuild or going to be a step back? Can the team make up for the loss of Elgadi? Are other guys ready to step up?
“I don’t look at Dani’s departure as a loss to our team,” said Kissi.
The coach also went on about how it is time for Simpson and Ryan to step up to take the charge. Kissi also mentioned Tyler Brown, calling the starting point guard “a complete stud”.
“They have no choice,” said Kissi when asked if Simpson and Ryan are ready to fill the shoes of Elgadi. “They’re going to have to do it. They’re going to have to step up and perform, and continue to grow.”
Simpson showed all weekend in Halifax that he is ready to takeover and can perform at the biggest stage. The guard averaged 29 points on 58.9 per cent shooting and 10.7 rebounds over the three games. Ryan wasn’t as effective, but led the Badgers in scoring for the season and was a major reason Brock was able to pull away in close games.
“We’ll have to own the leadership role,” said Simpson. “We have a lot of younger guys under us, we will have to be good at leading those guys as the older veteran presence.”
Kissi doesn’t expect to see much of a style change to the team next season, saying there will be some fundamental things changed and that the programs defensive rules will never change.
“Your offense is to put people in position to be successful,” said Kissi. “We don’t have a style of play, necessarily, we do what’s best with the players that we have.”
During the Final 8, Daniel Cayer, a second-year forward saw an enhanced role with the team. Cayer was seen bringing the ball up for the Badgers and even playing in the post. Rookies Kascius Small-Martin and Godsman Kwakwah were given key bench roles, and could see even bigger roles next season.
“Whoever’s willing to step up and take a larger role,” said Kissi, when asked who he see’s taking on a larger role. “Hopefully all of them. Whoever is at the point to be able to step up and help us, that’s what we are going to do.”
Kissi wouldn’t put a number on how many recruits he is hoping to bring in, saying the coaching staff is looking for the best quality players that fit the program. The Badgers are only losing two players from this years roster: Elgadi and forward Trevor Thompson.
“I’m not for everyone and everyone’s not for me,” Kissi said of the recruiting process. “My line is typically, ‘we are going to win with or without you.’”
With the offseason now in full-swing, the question will linger around the program if they’re ready to keep moving forward and taking the right steps forward without Elgadi.
“Definitely ready,” Elgadi said about the guys stepping up without him next season. “I think you saw who’s ready to take the torch [during the] tournament. The torch is being passed to the right hands.”
So, what is next?
“We’ve done everything,” said Simpson. “We’ve travelled all over the world, we’ve played against all levels of competition and we got national experience under our belt. There’s nothing left to do but win it. We know the blueprint now.”
“We’ll never be disappointed as long as we give everything we have,” added Kissi. “If we aren’t giving a hundred per cent effort than that’ll be disappointing, but I don’t expect that from these guys.”
The coach is also getting ready to throw the 2018-19 roster right into the fire once preseason gets underway. It is already confirmed that the Badgers will be travelling to Edmonton to play Calgary, UBC and Alberta – three teams that were ranked within the top 10 this past season.
There’s no confirmation if the team will be travelling during the summer, as they’ve been to the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica and Sweden the last three years. Kissi said he hopes to have another trip planned eventually.
The Badgers annual RBC Classic will take place again in October, but no team has confirmed they are attending. However, Kissi says there’s a lot of interest. This past year, Ryerson, Calgary and Windsor were in attendance, but October 2018, could see more than three teams.
Kissi hopes to plan more preseason games against top 10 teams. He believes the early test will help prepare his team for the national title and the Badgers will begin that quest early in preseason.