Mariners get back to work - DN feature

January 5th, 2014

Mariners get back to work

VIU men's basketball team preparing to defend their national championship

Josh Aldrich / Daily News
January 3, 2014

The Vancouver Island University Mariners men's basketball team does not have to look too far to figure out what it takes to compete for a national championship.

They, of course, won it all last year.

They were back at work at the VIU gym on Thursday afternoon preparing for their post-Christmas schedule, fresh off a trip to Oregon.

And that drive and desire to get back to the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championship is more than evident. "We've got to continue to show that it's going to take everyone on this squad to win," said veteran forward Jason Fortin. "We can't have mental lapses and if we make a mistake, we have to fix it and get right back at it on the next possession; we can't get unfocused because that's when it really unravels as a team."

The Mariners did not take it too easy over the Christmas break. Most of their local players practiced together and worked out together over the last month.

Then they did a five-day trip to Oregon to play three games against teams from the NAIA II. They got beat bad in their first two games against the Oregon Tech Owls - 93-70 and 89-69 - then bounced back and nearly beat Warner Pacific Knights, losing 87-82 in overtime after rallying from a 20-point first half deficit.

First half deficits were a common thread in the three games, getting outscored 150-95, but they won the second halves, outscoring their opponents 118-95.

"We didn't play well in the first halves, but we can take some positives that for three halves of basketball we beat good basketball teams," said head coach Matt Kuzminski.

All-Canadian guard Brandon Jones liked the fight he saw from his teammates.

"It was good. .. to see us battle back from 20-down in the last game to take them to overtime and show them we had the fight," he said. "Everyone wanted to see if we had it in us."

The trip did allow Jones the rare opportunity to play in front of a hometown crowd.

The Portland native has spent the last three years in Canada after transferring from a U.S. college.

Growing up, he was one of the top high school products in Portland while playing for Grant High School.

Returning five years later, the atmosphere was a little different.

"It was my parents basically, and some family and friends (in Attendance)," he said. "High school was much different. The rivalries were much different, you knew everyone you played against. .. it was good times."

Fortin continued his impressive campaign on the road trip. He was arguably the M's most consistent player over the three games and managed to make the adjustment against the higher level of competition better than most VIU players.

"His game transfers wherever he goes because of how hard he plays," said Kuzminski.

It's the style of game they will need to exhibit over the last seven weeks of the season if they are to be ready for the post-season and to defend their national championship.

It was a message that was drilled home in their final game of their first semester, a 102-85 loss to the Langara Falcons, the defending Pacific Western Athletic Association champions. "It gave us a lot of stuff to work on over the Christmas break, a lot of stuff to focus on," said Fortin. "This gives us even more motivation to get better coming back now."

Working to their advantage is the still have one week to shake the rust and get back in game shape, but then they are on the road for the first two weeks of 2014. Up first is the Columbia Bible College Bearcats on Jan. 10 and then the Kwantlen Eagles on Jan. 11.