Basketball bridesmaids for too long
Decades since UBC last won title
Once again, the University of B.C. basketball Thunderbirds are one step away from qualifying for the nationals, where they will again try to win their first title since the late Ron Thorsen and John Mills led the 1972 squad to the Grail, a chalice that has escaped this terrific program since then.
Coach Kevin Hanson again has his team poised to knock at the door of the promised land, although this year not only must they first beat Fraser Valley Friday night at War Memorial Gym to qualify, they would have to overcome a highly favoured Carleton University led by Richmond NBA prospect Philip Scrubb - clearly not an easy task.
The Birds are ranked No. 2 in the country, but those numbers don't mean a whole lot as the coaches vote and many of them don't see the teams play nearly as much as they should given their understandable concentration on their own teams.
But UBC will have a chance, which is all anyone can ask for.
In his 13th season as coach, Hanson has been to the dance so often he has sore feet, but never has he walked away with the trophy.
Twice he's been to the final, once with a team that went into the nationals with a record of 20-0 in Canada in 2005-06 with Casey Archibald as the star (He's now a full-time assistant coach).
He's been Canada West coach of the year five times and CIS coach of the year twice, and every year they've made the trip they refine their approach to improve their chances.
Whether it's travelling earlier, working on their sleep patterns with the Vancouver Canucks' sleep doctor, or changing their practice times to cope with the possibility of an early game which would be morning on their body clocks, they've done it.
But each year they've come away smarting.
"There's definitely been some bruising to the ego over the years," says Hanson, who never looks farther ahead than the next opponent and is certainly concerned about the Fraser Valley team, which boasts three fifth-year stalwarts in their push to make their first national championship.
"But let's just say that when we finally do win it's going to be that much sweeter because it's been such a bitter journey.
Being in contention every year the way we have has kept the fires burning, but it's our goal every year to get there and win.
During that time when we were losing in the first round all the time, winning a game became a priority, but now every year the goal is to win."
This year's team is very young even though they start Brylle Kamen, their own older imported player who led the West in rebounding this year and has been a huge lift to the rest of the guys in the program.
And if they fall once again in their pursuit of a national title, two years down the road they would appear on course to floor a terrific team at a time when they have applied to host the nationals at the Doug Mitchell Arena.
And make no mistake, hosting the event is a huge advantage so the timing could be outstanding.
"I never have a rebuilding year, or at least try never to do that, because you should recruit on a steady basis to have new guys coming in and contributing each year and that's the case this year, and I think pretty much every year I've been here," says Hanson.
"Because we've had some consistency in the program it's helped us get transfer players like the (Doug) Plumbs and the Kamens which have helped big time. We lost so many seniors last year we had no idea when this year started how it would turn out so it's gone pretty well."
Archibald is in his second year and has seen the program evolve over the years he's been involved.
"When I first got here there wasn't even one full-time assistant (coach) and when Randy (Nohr) got here, it was huge," says Archibald, who handles all the Facebook and Twitter communications for the self-proclaimed old-schooler Hanson.
"Since then, it's become more professional and we've looked into all kinds of ways to improve the program. I'm even involved in trying to find guys pro jobs afterwards. We have Nathan Yu, Kamar Burke and Alex Murphy all playing in pro leagues, and Balraj Bains is playing in a league in India. We just try to make the program better in every way we can."
The expectations on UBC this weekend are similar to those which will weigh on Carleton at the nationals.
If they win, it's expected, if not, it's a story.
But they are fine with that if it gets them another shot to win it all.
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