The University of Winnipeg men's basketball team could use a break -- both literally and figuratively -- and head coach Dave Crook believes the Wesmen Classic men's basketball tournament will provide both for his team.
The 0-9 Wesmen, still looking for their first Canada West conference win and just starting to recover from a number of injuries that have plagued the team, will play their first game in a month when they open action in the annual Wesmen Classic university basketball tournament on Monday. The tournament features eight Canadian and American teams.
"This break has come at a very good time for us and now we're looking at the Wesmen Classic as an opportunity to really rejuvenate our team," said Wesmen head coach Dave Crook.
"It's a great opportunity for us, being at home and having a chance to play games in front of hometown fans. It's an opportunity for us to take the next step and the guys are all really excited about it and ready for it."
The 43rd annual event, billed as a Winnipeg Christmas Classic, featured four other youth basketball events earlier this month but is headlined by the university men's and high school men's tournaments. The finals of both those tournaments are on Dec. 30 with the high school boys championship at 6 p.m. and the university men's championship at 8 p.m.
There will be a new Wesmen Classic university men's champion since the Brandon Bobcats, who won it last year, are not back. The Manitoba Bisons (3-6) are back in the tournament after missing last year's event when the team travelled to Florida.
The Bisons are experiencing their own form of rejuvenation under new head coach Kirby Schepp, a former Wesmen player and member of the Wesmen coaching staff.
"I love the Wesmen Classic, it's a big part of Winnipeg's basketball community," said Schepp, who also coached in the high school boys tournament with the Sturgeon Heights Huskies. The Huskies were provincial finalists last spring in AAAA boys basketball. "I can remember going to watch the Wesmen Classic in the seventh and eighth grades. My buddies and I would go get some food and just sit there and watch basketball all day."
The Wesmen and Bisons are on the same side of the draw so if the two teams win their first games, they would meet in the championship side semifinal on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m.
"It will be really exciting for local basketball fans if that were to happen, and now with our expanded league play, the Wesmen and Bisons don't meet as often as they used to," Schepp said.
On the tournament's opening day of Dec. 28, the Wesmen meet the Bishops Gaiters at 6 p.m. followed at 8 p.m. by Manitoba taking on the Valley City Vikings from Valley City, N.D. Other first-round games go at noon when the Lakehead Thunderwolves meet the Minot State Beavers and at 2 p.m. when the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack take on Laval Rouge et Or.
The eight-team high school boys tournament, won by the Garden City Fighting Gophers for the past two years, is up on Dec. 27 with games at 2 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
For the full schedule, please go to www.wesmen.ca