How sweet it is.
After years of rebuilding and assembling just the right pieces, Dinos men's basketball Head Coach Dan Vanhooren and his team hoisted a Canada West Championship banner overhead for the first time since 1993.
"Obviously, this feels fantastic," smiled Vanhooren as the Dinos cut down the net in the Brandon University gymnasium. "I'm happy for our kids. They came together, they believed in themselves, they played so hard. I'm excited they have the opportunity to experience this."
The 92-87 victory Sat., Mar. 6 over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds capped a long journey for Vanhooren's club, a journey that began four years ago when Vanhooren took the reins of the program.
The talent was always there, even early in his tenure, however some--this reporter among them--were critical of the team's lack of success. With this accomplishment, there is a certain sense of vindication in the Dinos locker room.
There are critics no more.
This is a team that has matured alongside their coach, a team that reflects his personality and philosophy on the game and, most importantly, a team that is playing their best ball of the season at just the right time.
"Each night we had different people step up and do it," said Vanhooren of Saturday's landmark victory. "Whit (Hornsberger) got rolling early and Chris (Wright) was getting good looks in the second half.
"We just stuck with them."
The weekend, which also included an impressive 86-71 semi-final triumph over the host University of Brandon Bobcats Friday night, was defined by spectacular shooting by the Dinos. They were over 40 per cent from the floor and, more impressively, from beyond the arc, leaving no doubt who the best team was on the weekend.
"I just came out and hit my shots," said a humble Surinder Grewal following a 19 point Friday night performance against the Bobcats. "I think it was J.R. (John Riad) who really got us going and I tried to carry what he started."
Riad, in his fifth and final season with the Dinos, knew exactly what was at stake on the evening. The third leading scorer in Dinos history drained a cool 20 points Friday to pace the squad.
"There was so much motivation for us tonight," the Canada West First Team All Star explained following the semi-final win. "Win and we go to Halifax--that was all we needed. Surinder started hitting shots and he got rolling and we picked up the win."
Other notable performances on the weekend for the Dinos were turned in by Wright and Hornsberger against UBC, who led the club with 25 points apiece on the evening.
The Dinos have now qualified for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Men's Basketball Championship for the first time since the Richard Bohne era--and they aren't just happy to be there. Joining them Mar. 18-21 in Halifax are the T-Birds and the University of Brandon, who edged out the favoured University of Alberta Golden Bears in overtime for the third and final Canada West berth.
Led by Riad, this offensive juggernaut is hoping to make the country take notice of their up-tempo style.
Best of luck boys.