TORONTO â€” It’s a partnership that first sprouted out of a Toronto Raptors’ coaching open house a few years ago.
And when Brock takes the court at the Wilson Cup in Ottawa on Friday night, Dwane Casey’s influence will be woven through Charles Kissi’s upstart Badgers squad.
Kissi’s team takes an 11-game winning streak into a tough OUA conference Final Four that features the top four-ranked teams in Canadian university men’s basketball.
The young coach is in his fourth year at Brock’s helm, and has taken the team from four wins in his first season to 15 victories this year. He credits his one-year coaching mentorship under Casey, and their friendship that blossomed from it, for his coaching development.
“I was fortunate enough to take part in (the mentorship) that turned into a relationship and I’ve been able to keep that going and just kind of stay around and continue to learn,” Kissi said from his campus office in St. Catharines, Ont. “I’d say that (the Raptors) are responsible for my coaching development.”
The mentorship was the Raptors’ first and developed out of the team’s coaching open house that began in 2011. Kissi has attended Toronto’s practices and sat in on film sessions, he’s been on the bench during games, and was with the Raptors during summer league in Las Vegas and training camp in Vancouver.
The biggest thing to rub off? Casey’s defensive approach, of course.
“If you look at our progression, the last 11 games holding teams to 52.5 points, in our league that’s really good I think,” Kissi said.
“There are a lot of other little things, like how to carry yourself,” he added. “I have some pre-game routines that I take from him. . . I try to stay out of sight, out of mind until the six-minute mark, just not be on the floor, just let people focus on everything else but.
“And then from (Casey’s coaching) staff, a lot of offensive things too. We run some similar stuff, obviously we tweak it for our personnel, but Jama (Mahlalela) and Nick Nurse and Rex (Kalamian), they have some really intelligent coaches who are very good, they’re all unique and different, so you get the benefit of really taking from everybody.”
Casey calls Kissi a “super talented young coach.”
“He has it,” Casey said. “He is a dedicated young man who is disciplined and has a passion for the game. He’s an excellent teacher and a sponge for knowledge. He’d be a good coach at any level.”
The Badgers are gunning for their first spot at the national championships since they won it in 2008. They’ve won the Wilson Cup once, in 1992, and have two national titles â€” ’92 and ’08.
The OUA, however, has the country’s top four teams, and only three â€” at most â€” make the Final 8 tournament March 9-12 in Halifax.
The Badgers (15-4), who are fourth in this week’s Canadian rankings, face No. 1-ranked Carleton (19-0) on Friday. No. 2-ranked Ryerson Rams (17-2) take on third-ranked Ottawa (16-3).
The winners of each earn a spot in the Final 8. The losers will battle for a chance at an at-large berth.
Kissi said he’s had a few sleepless nights, especially ahead of last week’s win over Toronto. A loss would have ended their season.
“It’s been good, a really neat journey,” Kissi said. “Last week was huge because it was our time to get over the hump, we lost that game last year on the road. This year we got a bye and got to play at home, so yeah I didn’t sleep. This week it’s bigger, but I think we’ll be OK.
“It’s so new, you want (the players) to experience it,” he added. “We’ve come so far from three, four years ago that you want it for them. But I always say you can’t want it more than them, so thank goodness they matched the want and got it done.”
The Badgers are led by fourth-year forward Dani Elgadi, the lone player in the OUA to average a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game, along with former Canadian rookie of the year Johneil Simpson, Ryan Bennett, Cassidy Ryan, Tyler Brown and rookie Daniel Cayer.
Despite the Ravens’ record, Kissi believes Carleton is beatable. There’s more parity in the OUA, he said, than in past seasons.
“Our guys, they’re not over-confident but I think they’re in a pretty good place as we prepare,”he said. “They’re pretty focused and they know it’s realistic.
“I always believe that teams get off the bus and they’ve already lost when they get there. And we don’t have that. I think our guys understand that this is a winnable game if we do our job. It’s proven that we can get it done.”
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Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press