The Pronghorns men’s basketball team has had 19 months to get to know head coach Jermaine Small, but the team has yet to play a Canada West game with him on the bench.
Friday night that will all change as the Horns men and women both host the University of Calgary Dinos to kick off the 2021-2022 season, more than 600 days since they last played a conference game.
“Just being able to be back this year, that’s kind of been one of our mantras: just take advantage of this opportunity we have, because just a year ago we didn’t have that,” said third-year centre Jeff Rodehutskors. “I think Jermaine brings a new attitude. I think he’s the first coach in a while that’s not a born-and-bred southern Alberta guy, and I think it’s a great thing.
“He’s respected and maintained a strong presence of guys on the roster from Alberta and southern Alberta, but he’s also brought in some new guys and some new blood.”
Small said he’s excited to finally see his players get rewarded after too many months of just facing off against each other at practice.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about it the last couple of days and I don’t really know what to expect,” Small laughed. “I know they’re going to get hyped up for the game, but you know, I’m expecting a little bit of nerves — they haven’t played in front of fans in how long?”
The Horns men played just one pre-season game — a 93-62 win over ACAC opponent Medicine Hat College — but the head coach said he’s optimistic about his group.
“I think our team, the one thing we have is we have balance,” Small said. “We have speed, we have size, we have some shooting, so I think we have a nice blend of everything and hopefully we gel during the season.”
Veterans like Rodehutskors and fourth-year forward Chad Oviatt will be relied on by Small to lead the way.
For the Pronghorns women, experience is also in heavy supply this season, with a roster where even some of the new faces have Canada West backgrounds.
Makenna Ledgister (Alberta Pandas), Haily Weaver (Victoria Vikes) and Aimee Wilson (Alberta Pandas) have all joined the Horns after previous playing for other universities in the conference.
Wilson chose the U of L for to pursue a master of arts and Indigenous studies and said she hopes she can bring value to the roster.
“I think I bring a little bit of knowledge about all the other schools,” she said.
“I kind of have an idea of when we step on the court to play U of A, or the Dinos, or even (Saskatchewan), I’ve played them for the last six years, so I kind of have an idea of what they’re usually like and what they bring to the table.”
Head coach Dave Waknuk said the late addition of Wilson to his roster is one that he thinks will pay off in spades, both on and off the court.
“Aimee just brings so much maturity and positive leadership with her,” Waknuk said.
“You know, to have somebody with that experience, and I think that confidence in who she is and her past experiences in the league,, it’s huge for our team.”
The Horns women went 3-2 over a five-game pre-season schedule and Waknuk said it was a positive first step that the group is ready to build on.
“We knew what pieces we had, but we had to see how the pieces fit,” he said. “And I think we’ve had a good chance to understand who we are right now.”
The women will face a Dinos team on Friday and Saturday that went undefeated through eight pre-season games.
Tip off for the women’s game is at 6 p.m. at the U of L on Friday, followed by the men’s game at 8 p.m.