The return of the Wesmen Classic

Host team looks to improve ranking as it rides hot streak into holiday hoops tourney


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Shawn Maranan may not look like a grizzled veteran but he certainly plays the part.

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Shawn Maranan may not look like a grizzled veteran but he certainly plays the part.

The third-year University of Winnipeg point guard was the lone returning starter for the Wesmen entering the 2022-23 U Sports men’s basketball season.

Yet, the 5-8 Sisler grad has treated his squad’s inexperience as a minor inconvenience.

With Maranan setting the table, the Wesmen have won four consecutive games and sit third in Canada West with a 6-2 conference record.

Winnipeg was ranked 14th in the most recent national coaches poll.

“To be honest, looking into the year I didn’t know what to expect,” Maranan said Wednesday. “I always look back to where I came from and how I got here. Just me being a rookie, I wouldn’t ever have thought I would be in this position — to be the leader of the team and to be the main point guard.”

On a roster laden with seven second-year players and five rookies, Winnipeg will have a chance to improve on its national standing when it hosts the Wesmen Classic during the upcoming holiday break.

Attempts to host a men’s basketball tournament as part of the Classic’s four-sport rotation were unsuccessful owing to the pandemic in each of the past two years.

The Wesmen host the Algoma (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) Thunderbirds in opening-round action Wednesday, Dec. 28.

“We were supposed to play in it the last two years, so the fact we get to do it finally, after the pandemic and after two long seasons, we’re pretty excited,” said second-year forward Emmanuel Thomas, who is part of a starting five that also includes Donald Stewart, Malachi Alexander and Spanish import Mikhail Mikhailov. “I know some guys on our team haven’t even played in the Classic before, so it’s gonna be fun.”

The nation’s top-ranked squad, the Ottawa GeeGees, along with No. 7 Manitoba Bisons, No. 9 Alberta Golden Bears and No. 17 Brandon Bobcats are participating to make it one of the toughest Classic fields in recent memory.

Men’s basketball hasn’t been on the tournament agenda since 2016.

“For it to be back, especially with what’s gone on the past few years with COVID and all that, it’s just amazing to be a part of and I’m excited to be part of the tournament,” said Maranan.

“We know how how big of a tournament this is (and) how much this means to a lot of the people around Wesmen athletics. I just want to do my job and that’s just to be a leader.”

Head coach Mike Raimbault’s club went into the mid-season break on a high after sweeping a home-and-home series with the Bobcats — beating Brandon 108-99 on Dec. 1 at the Duckworth Centre before hammering BU 88-65 on the road two days later.

“There’s been a cohesion, there’s been a collective level of buy-in and there’s been some understanding that everybody is growing and dealing with some of the same challenges, and the urgency to support each other through that has been at the forefront,” said Raimbault, in his 13th season as Winnipeg’s head coach.

“One night a guy has a great night and another guy potentially has a night of some struggles and I just think that they’ve done a really good job of being humble and working through the challenges of trying to improve.”

Maranan is the club’s spiritual leader but he does the job on the scoresheet as well, leading the Wesmen in scoring (16.9 points per game), assists (4.25 per game) free-throw percentage (91.9 per cent), three-point accuracy (38.8 per cent) and field-goal percentage (43.3).

Winnipeg has a balanced attack with six players averaging 8.9 points per game or better. Four are averaging at least five rebounds a game, topped by the 6-9 Mikhailov’s seven per game.

“The core group of guys that’s here today has taken on a little bit more of a leadership role and they’ve done an exceptional job of leading by example and working together,” said Raimbault.

Added Maranan: “I came in here in 2019 as a rookie and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But, obviously, a dream of mine growing up was just to play at this level and to be here at home playing under Coach Mike. I’m just extremely grateful and I will never take this opportunity for granted.”

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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