Men's Basketball Coach - NDN feature

December 12th, 2012

Mostly smooth sailing for Mariners under new coach

VIU sits in second place after first semester with Kuzminski, still room to learn

Josh Aldrich
Daily News


It would appear Matt Kuzminski has passed the first major test of head coaching career.

The Vancouver Island University Mariners men's basketball bench boss has guided the team to a 6-2 start in the Pacific Western Athletic Association, but over the winter break he must figure out the next step for his club.

The Mariners have looked strong as this year as they have transitioned to the rookie head coach and a new set of systems. In the meant time, players like junior guard Brandon Jones and freshman point guard Jon Bethel have stepped up in the opportunities given to them.

It is far to early to cast any final verdict on the hire of the young coach, but early returns are good.

"There's always things you can harp on for improvement and always things that I think we can do better, and we're practicing hard to get to try to improve on those," said Kuzminski.

Kuzminski, who starred for the Simon Fraser University Clan, was hired after an extensive search to replace longtime successful head coach Tony Bryce who announced he was stepping down last January. Kuzminski, however, came in with little coaching experience, working mostly as an assistant with the Dover Bay Dolphins senior boys team and another local junior varsity team.

It has been a lot of baptism by fire this year for Kuzminski, as he has had to learn everything from time management away from the court to managing all the in-game intricacies a coach needs to learn.

"I learn new stuff every game, there's stuff I have to make adjustments to and I think it will be like that for a while now, I am still new to the coaching thing," said Kuzminski, who also teaches Grade 6 at Cinnabar Elementary School. "But it's good, I don't expect the learning to stop."

He has certainly brought a new style to the Mariners, but so far the players seem to be buying in.

Through the first semester, they boast the best defence in the PacWest, allowing just 543 points - a paltry 67.875 a game. The undefeated Langara Falcons are second with 578 points against - 72.25 a game.

Their biggest change is their offence, going from a board-crashing style to a perimeter shooting system that stresses spreading the ball around and versatility.

Jones has benefited the most from this mentality, as he has gone from third or fourth option under Bryce to their biggest weapon, leading the team in scoring with 15.5 points a game and assists with 3.88 a game. He is also second on the M's in rebounding with 6.63 a game, behind veteran forward Tyler Olsen (7.75).

"I like this group," said Jones, who will be heading home to Portland, Ore., over Christmas. "We're deeper, it just takes time to mold and we're molding every day at practice."

Their offence is also the area of their game that grow the most. Fourth-year Clayton Billett is second on the team in scoring with 11.38 points a game while Olsen is third at 10.25. With big pushes by first year Mariners Bethell (6.63) and Adam Connolly (8.63). Overall their offence ranks fourth in the eight-team PacWest with 78.625 points a game.

"(We have to improve) everything from our execution, players knowing exactly what their roles are, and making sure everyday in practice and games we come with a business-like approach," said Kuzminski.

The players will continue to workout through Christmas, but will only have one chance to fine-tune their in exhibition play - Dec. 29 in Bellingham, Wash., against the Whatcom Community College Orcas - before get back into their PacWest schedule on Jan. 4 in Victoria against the Camosun Chargers.

"I've been in this position as a player before and I know at this time of the year you've got to do stuff on your own outside the team," said Kuzminski. "You have to be willing to do some extra weight training and extra conditioning training on your own."