By Thomas Becker
In sports, there are no guarantees. One moment the window for a title is wide open and suddenly it closes shut.
After a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, a new window is slowly opening for the men's basketball Panthers – who hit the refresh button and are building a defence-first culture that embraces a strong work ethic.
"Our challenges are obviously geography and finances. We know we're not going to be able to bring in five blue-chip players every year," said first-year head coach Darrell Glenn, who suited up as a member of the Panthers from 1988-94. "A lot of the success that we have will depend on the work that we do with the guys we bring in."
Despite the Panthers' limitations, the former Seneca College bench boss, said they're determined to build a contender from within by placing their energy in personnel and skill development.
"From a coaching perspective, we have to develop players so that they get better and we have to find players who have a strong work ethic."
Glenn believes that's where the Panthers will have an edge over their AUS counterparts.
"We're building our team around defence because to me that's the one thing you can control regardless of how well you're shooting."
With nine new players on the roster and a handful of returnees who saw limited action last season, there have been growing pains. But after a long exhibition schedule, Glenn's team is starting to come together, especially on the offensive end.
Glenn's offensive philosophy is all about generating open looks and getting high percentage shots, whether it's through ball reversal – moving it from one side to the other – or getting the ball to the paint by penetration or dishing it to the post.
"I really believe in taking uncontested shots. The more uncontested shots you take, the higher percentage you're going to make."
Entering his fourth year of eligibility, forward Milorad Sedlarevic has gained the confidence of his new head coach and will be leaned on to lead the Panthers into battle each night.
"We go as far as he goes. Defensively he's got to be our catalyst because he's going to take the most shots," Glenn said. "If the team can see that the guy who's leading us in scoring is the same guy who's willing to stand in there and take a charge or get a rebound, it's easy for the other guys to buy in."
While Sedlarevic may be the focal point, the Panthers boast several weapons that could go off in any game. Samy Mohamed brings range out on the perimeter, while Stefan Vujisic figures to be a key piece down low. Newcomer D'Adrian Allen, who played for Southern University in 2015-16, figures to be a mismatch on most nights because of his six-foot-eight frame and ability to stretch the floor.
"With his size, athleticism and strength, I think he has a real opportunity to be a dominant player."
The Panthers are also very, very young with eight rookies on their roster. Forward Vernelle Johnson has a presence in the post with his big frame and has a chance to be a special player in this league. While guards Dakelle Brooks, Moshe Wadley and Stratford's own Adam Ryan will occupy minutes out on the perimeter.
"We're very guard heavy, but we're going to have to do this by committee and I think it makes you tougher to defend."
Ultimately, the goal is to win a national championship, but the team is determined to take on the smaller goals that lead to bigger and better things. Glenn just asks one thing of his players – what are you prepared to do every single day to achieve that goal.
"We have a bunch of things we're trying to do and we think if we meet those goals every game then the wins and losses will take care of themselves."