By Dylan Perego
A National Championship loss isn’t something any given team can simply bounce back from the following season.
The Humber Hawks men’s basketball team is out to prove that they’re not just any given team.
For the past two seasons, the Hawks have been no strangers to success. The team returned to the top of the mountain in the CCAA in 2014-15 by capturing its sixth-ever national title, and they were one win away from back-to-back championships last year.
After a crushing 79-74 defeat at the hands of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology on Mar. 19 of last year, however, the Hawks were left with a stretch of nearly seven months to think about how their season ended. Only time was going to tell if this group, with a number of key graduating players, had one more title run left in them, or if a significant rebuild was on the horizon.
So far this season, the Hawks have shown everyone that they have no plans of going away.
First year head coach Patrick Au inherited an experienced group of players when he took over at the beginning of this season, and he credits a unified team approach to not just every game, but every day of the season.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the year and then that was it,” Au said. “We have a saying, we try to be better than our best every day and we take it one day at a time, one step at a time.”
The mantra for the team has been simple, but it has made all the difference in the world.
With three games left to go in a 16-game regular season, the Hawks currently sit in second place behind their rivals – the undefeated Sheridan Bruins.
If the season were to end today, the Hawks would claim the second of two byes through the first round of the OCAA playoffs, where first and second place in each of the Eastern and Western divisions wait while third through sixth place play first-round crossover games.
In regards to how his team is preparing for a run through this year’s playoffs, Au is confident in his team’s focus and how his players are preparing for the postseason.
“We kind of know where we want to go and it’s just a matter of every day we try to work on being the best version of ourselves we can be, individually and as a team,” he said.
The Hawks have a plethora of veteran players on its roster, including fifth-year players Gibson Eduful, Tyrone Dickson and Ancil Martin. Their veterans have played a big role in setting the tone and anticipation for the season. Au believes that the wealth of experience in big games has played a huge part in integrating first-year players into the culture of the program.
“For guys who have been there before, they know what it takes to get to that point,” Au said. “We have eight new first-year players and it’s just a matter of getting those guys up to speed with kind of how we do things”
Despite losing two of their first three games of the season, the Hawks were able to put together an eight-game winning streak before eventually losing to Niagara on Jan. 25. Au believes the team needs more stability in order to maintain the level of play that saw them go undefeated for over two months.
“I think we need to just find some consistency with our level of compete and with our level of execution. We’ve really been working hard on executing at a faster pace and it’s just about getting that level of consistency that we are performing at that level.”
Part of the responsibility of being a head coach at the college level, in any sport, is keeping the future in mind as well as the present, Au says, noting that next year the main challenge will not necessarily be to replace a certain number of players, but more so the number of minutes per game.
“Really, I think we are losing probably four of our five starters,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big turnaround in the sense of numbers, but it’s a big turnaround when you lose players like Tyrone [Dickson] and Gibson [Eduful] who are two of the best players to have ever played at Humber, and Ancil [Martin] is our leading scorer this year, so replacing those three guys is a big hole. …It’s more like we have big holes to fill in sort of the presence and legacy that those guys leave behind.”
With so many veteran players preparing for their last post-season wearing the blue and gold, the Hawks seek their third consecutive conference championship and then National Championship appearance.
The Hawks have three games remaining before the journey through the playoffs, with remaining road games against Sheridan (Feb. 4), St. Clair (Feb. 18) and Lambton (Feb. 19).