On October 2, 2015, the University of Victoria Vikes men’s basketball team took to the CARSA Performance Gym for the first exhibition game at their brand new facility.
Staring them down on the other side of the Ken and Kathy Shields Court, surrounded by 2,183 blue and gold fans, were the Carleton Ravens—a dynasty in CIS basketball and owners of 12 of the last 14 CIS banners. It was a fitting way to break in the new gym for the underdog Vikes.
The Ravens would leave with the victory, dominating the defending Canada West champions by a score of 80-47, while the Vikes left with a valuable lesson: it takes time to make a house a home. Now, with the 2016-17 season looming and the NCAA Division I Charlotte 49ers coming to town for an exhibition game on August 15, the Vikes are starting to feel like that time has come.
“This is a lot more our home this year than it was last year,” said head coach Craig Beaucamp, entering his 14th year at the helm. “Last year we were playing this gym, we may as well have been the visiting team. That’s a fairly significant factor. We’ve practiced in here for a year and got a significant number of games in or at least a good core of our guys feel pretty comfortable here.”
That core includes returning starters Grant Sitton and Jordan Charles, who averaged the second (14.4) and third (10.3) most points per game on the team, respectively, behind departing senior Mack Roth. Sitton, who had two double-doubles last year, is entering his fifth year with the Vikes and the six-foot-nine forward will be relied upon as a leader in 2016-17.
But the Vikes also have a number of new faces. New additions Jake Newman, Noah Charles, JJ Hamel Carey, Vladislav Zasmolin, Scott Kellum and Wayne Tucker will give the Vikes a new look, and Monday’s game gives them a chance to dig in before the Guy Vetrie Tournament in late September.
“For everybody it’s a bit of a learning experience. Our new players playing in our gym for the first time, getting a feel for the atmosphere,” said Beaucamp. “It’s a carrot for the guys—it’s a game and they all love to play games and the fact that it’s a Division I team makes it more exciting.
“But that’s the biggest thing: they’re just excited to go out there and play.”
On the other end of the court will be the Charlotte 49ers, who are based out of Conference USA in the NCAA’s Division I. The 49ers, led by second-year head coach Mark Price, are returning six letterwinners and three starters off of last year’s team that went 14-19 overall.
For basketball fans, the name Mark Price will be familiar. Price played in the NBA from 1986 through 1998, spending most of his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The four-time NBA all-star went on to be an assistant coach in the NBA for seven years, finishing with the Charlotte Hornets. Now, he’s in charge of a program that’s looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
“It’s kind of neat that the guy down there has played many games in the NBA but for the most part you’re just looking at them as a team that’s going to be well coached and well prepared,” said Beaucamp. “We don’t get a lot of chances to play against Division I teams so any time that you’re going to play against them you know you’re going to be playing against a good team with good athletes that play good basketball so that’s always exciting and it’s always a challenge as well.”
Senior guard Braxton Ogbueze led the 49ers in scoring last season with 14.5 points per game. Behind him were Conference USA All-Freshman team members and fellow guards Jon Davis and Andrien White, who averaged 11.7 and 10.7 points per game, respectively.
The 49ers and the Vikes will tip off at 7:00 p.m. PT at the CARSA Performance Gym on August 15. Tickets are available online here or at the door. All ticket information, including prices for Monday’s game, can be found at govikesgo.com/tickets. The game can be watched live on canadawest.tv.