By Thomas Becker
Before the start of each season, head coach Darrell Glenn predicts his team's win-loss record on a piece of paper and puts it aside, not to be looked at, until the end of the year. He wouldn't divulge what's in the top-secret note, but he did hint at a potential playoff berth.
"I think we can make the playoffs every year," he said. "As a coach, I'm not out here thinking we're not making the playoffs."
After missing out on all the postseason fun last season, the Panthers are hungry and ready to take the next step in their development.
Glenn is in the second year of a rebuild and is convinced his team is better equipped for the AUS grind.
"I really feel this team is more talented this year," Glenn said. "We've added six new players, who are expected to see important playing time."
Of the 15-man roster, 10 of them are in their first and second years. A young team to say the least, but sophomore guard Dakelle Brooks said they're up for the challenge that lies ahead.
"With the veterans helping us on and off the court, it's become a brotherhood and I feel like that's what we need to take us to that next level."
During the off-season, Glenn and his staff put together a wish list that included a point guard, a wing and a big. They brought in five recruits who fit the bill and of the five, Quebec natives and twin brothers Judy and Nudy Georges were the only two who committed to UPEI. After they signed on the dotted line, the dominoes started to fall. Childhood friend Jean Clairemond Jr Cesar and teammate Jamesley Jerome wanted to play alongside the Georges again and followed them to UPEI. Ontario big man Samuel Campbell committed shortly after, while sharpshooter and Charlottetown's own Jack MacAulay returns to the court after transferring from Cape Breton.
Glenn said he admires the way they play ball in Quebec and made a conscious effort to tap into the market. He loves how hard they compete and wanted to inject that hardnosed culture into his team.
"I like the blue collar kind of guys, that's my style. We want to be a tough, gritty team that's really going to get after it on defence. We want to play the game fast, but under control."
The new studs have made an early impression on fifth-year forward Milorad Sedlarevic, who has experienced the highs and lows with the Island squad.
"Every single individual is bringing something unique to the table," he said. "Jack is one of the best knockdown shooters I ever played with. Nudy and Judy are a very athletic duo, who'll help us get easy points in transition. Jamesley is versatile and can play multiple positions. Samuel brings height and toughness to the team. While Jean Clairemond will be a noticeable presence on defence."
Many of them are coming from situations where they were asked to do a lot, but with new assigned roles, Glenn is asking them to do less for the betterment of the group.
"If we're going to be successful and if you really care about winning, then the emphasis really needs to be on stopping people, making the right decisions and being a good team person," he said.
His message seems to be getting across, as Brooks and his teammates recognize the sacrifices needed to get back to the promised land.
"We have guys putting in the extra work everyday and we're competing in practice on both ends of the floor," Brooks said. "As long as we continue to trust each other, I think we can be a special team that makes a lot of noise in this league."
Part of that trust and sacrifice is the redefining of roles. Fourth-year guard Amin Suleman, for example, has shifted to shooting guard after playing the last three years at the point. Glenn believes his veteran guard can become a scoring threat with the ability to keep defences honest with his deep range. While he'll still be asked to facilitate at times, Brooks and Judy will be tasked at organizing the offence.
After a last season's 3-17 record, the team has been focusing their attention on three areas: Defending the ball, stopping people in transition and improved shooting from the three-point line. And so far, Glenn likes what he sees.
"We definitely upgraded our talent and that helps," he said. "We feel we're a more athletic team, we feel we're a better defensive team and we feel we've solved our three-point issues. But only time will tell."
Those are staples of every successful team and with one last year in him, the longest standing Panther hopes to make 2018-19 a memorable one.
"We have to go out there and compete hard every night," Sedlarevic said. "Playing with a high-effort attitude through good and bad will be a huge factor in clinching a playoff spot."
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