Young Panthers will be thrown into the fire right from the opening tipoff when an injury-riddled UPEI men’s basketball squad opens its season tonight.
The Panthers are hoping to dress nine players, including four rookies, when they host the Dalhousie Tigers at 8 p.m. for the first of two weekend Atlantic University Sport games.
Despite the rash of players on the mend, the Panthers’ expectations have not changed.
“We’re looking to get two victories out of the weekend,” said coach Tim Kendrick. “We expect to go in and play very well against Dalhousie.”
He added the adversity is a good test for the team.
“The young guys are really coming. They’re playing hard (and) they’re practicing hard. That’s the great thing about depth.”
The Panthers will be without fourth-year guard Donathan Moss until Christmas as he is dealing with torn cartilage in his right knee.
Terrence Brown, also a fourth-year guard, is still recovering from ACL surgery in March while rookie forward Opel Samuel Otieno is out two to four weeks with a broken nose.
Will Caesar is out this week with a shoulder injury, but the team is hoping he will be day-to-day next week.
The Panthers had a
less-than-stellar pre-season that saw them compile a 3-5 record.
Kendrick’s son Joe, a first-year Panther, said the record is not indicative of the team’s talent and the pre-season was an opportunity for the many new faces to get used to playing with one another.
The record may allow UPEI to sneak up on teams early in the season.
“We’re kind of banking on that a little bit,” Joe said. “I think a lot of guys are going to overlook us. We’re going to surprise a lot of teams early.”
Deontay Smith, another first-year Panther, is excited to be reunited with coach Kendrick, who he played for with the silver-medal winning Nova Scotia Canada Games team in 2009.
“I love him,” Smith said. “One of the best coaches I’ve ever had. I love the intensity, the momentum he brings, the poise and the fact he believes in every one of his players.”
Smith, who is also known as D.J., plays both guard position but prefers the two-guard spot and likes the ball on the wing.
Both players said practices have been intense this week and they are looking forward to the season.
“If we have a good start coming out this weekend, I think, that really could propel us into the season,” Joe added. “We’ll be ready to go.”
AUS Men’s Basketball
u What - Eight teams play a 20-game schedule.
u Teams - Saint Mary’s, Acadia, Cape Breton, Dalhousie, St. F.X., UNB, UPEI and Memorial.
u Season Opener - The UPEI Panthers host the Dalhousie Tigers tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.
u Past champions -
2010, Cape Breton
2008, Saint Mary’s
2006, St. F.X.
2005, St. F.X.
2004, St. F.X.
u Pre-season CIS rankings -
4. Fraser Valley
8. Cape Breton