Friday, June 03, 2011

Basketball: Rootes' uphill climb at Brock

A little over three years ago, Brad Rootes cemented Brock's improbable place in CIS men's basketball history. Now, he's locked up his place in leading that team for the foreseeable future.

After serving as interim head coach for the 2010-11 season, Rootes has been given a long-term contract to be the head coach of the Badgers' men's basketball program, with an official announcement taking place last week in St. Catharines.

Rootes, a five-time All-Star as a player with the Badgers, led the team to a CIS championship in 2008 under then-coach Ken Murray. When Murray left before last season, Rootes moved up from assistant coach to interim head coach. Now, at 26, he's the youngest bench boss in CIS men's hoops.

With his place locked up at the helm, Rootes can now get started on what will be a somewhat arduous task: finding a way to break out of the tough, parity-filled OUA West.

The West became known last year not as a powerhouse for national-level contenders, but for being a no-holds barred, slug-em-out grudge match of a division where the even level of competition saw winning streaks and above-.500 records come at a premium.

Brock's 2010-11 campaign was sullied by a late six-game losing streak, which put them a 9-13 and sunk their playoff hopes. Any momentum that had been built up from having the past two CIS Rookies of the Year was stunted, with Clinton Springer-Williams being lured away to the NCAA's Gannon University and Didi Mukendi missing the entire season with a knee injury.

With Rootes now firmly entrenched as the head of the program, Brock has an opportunity to re-build properly for the long term and leave the Ken Murray era in the dust. A couple of positives stand out heading into the fall:

  • Investment in returns: Mukendi has a chance for a fresh start after the knee injury. He's got a chance to be a difference-maker and a major impact player. Meanwhile, Chicago State transfer Tshing Kasamba will pair with the emergent Mark Gibson to give Brock one of the most athletic frontcourts in the province.
  • No more question marks: Rootes wasn't the only big-time interim employee at Brock last year; Chris Critelli was serving as interim athletic director, and the future of the program was entirely up in the air. Now, with Rob Hilson taking over as AD and Rootes given a longer leash, the Badgers have a chance to build a new identity. This should make recruiting much easier for Brock.

The OUA West will once again be tough this season. Laurier will be strong, McMaster has a lights-out recruiting class and Lakehead will be tough to unseat from their current OUA throne. But if Rootes and Brock can build a solid foundation this year, the Badgers won't be too far from hearing their name in the conversation again.

Mostly thanks to Rootes, Brock was at the top of CIS basketball for one season. It will be largely up to him whether they get back to contention for that title again.

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