Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wesmen want title for Xmas

Tired of being gracious hosts at own tourney

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Coach Mike Raimbault wasn't shy about asking Santa for a Wesmen Classic championship for his University of Winnipeg men's basketball team at the tourney's kickoff press conference on Monday.

After all, the Wesmen have been more than gracious hosts the past five years, allowing visiting teams to take the title. The Wesmen, who last won in 2006, lost to Saskatchewan 80-60 in last year's final.

This year's annual university men's tournament will be held for a 45th time Dec. 27-30.

"I think it's a tradition to ask for one," said Raimbault, laughing. "It's chock full of tradition and good memories throughout. It's an exciting time of year around here for our team especially and a great time to play some great basketball."

The door is open for a new champion as last year's champion Saskatchewan Huskies won't be in attendance this year.

The Classic, billed as "A Winnipeg Christmas Tradition," includes four other divisions in addition to the university men's division. The Club Classic (Dec. 1-4), the Adidas Junior Varsity Classic (Dec. 9-10), the Inner City Girls' Classic (Dec. 12-13) and the High School Boys' Classic (Dec. 27-30).

Fifth-year Wesmen guard Craig Sharpe said his team is going into the tournament taking care not to look too far ahead.

"We have to focus on our first game (against Keyano College of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association) because if we can get past that (to the semifinals), the U of M is a tough opponent. We've already lost to them twice this year so it would be nice to get another chance," Sharpe said.

"I know we're going to have to play well as a group and rebound the ball well. We have a lot of new faces from last year but I've seen (recently) we've been communicating a lot better on the floor and practising better so hopefully we can transfer that to the games."

The Wesmen have battled numerous injuries this season and lost two Canada West conference games by one point, so the team believes it is better than its 2-6 record.

Raimbault said he is optimistic the Wesmen may be able to welcome back point guard Andrew Cunningham for the tournament. Cunningham, in his first season with the Wesmen, suffered a foot injury early in the season and has been out ever since. He's a third-year player, having played two seasons in the U.S. at Redlands Community College in Oklahoma.

"He's a big part of what we were doing early on in the season before he got injured," Raimbault said. "He's a pretty talented point guard and he'll add some depth to that position and he'll take a bit of the pressure off everyone in terms of guys being put in the right positions where they can be successful."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2011 C7

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