Schepp rebuilds Bison men’s basketball with local stars
There was a time back in the 1970s and early ’80s when the Bisons men’s basketball team was, consistently, among the best in the country. But then, for almost 25 years, the U of M men’s team scuffled along with too many weak recruiting years and too many losing records. Then along came Kirby Schepp.
When he arrived at the University of Manitoba, Kirby Schepp had already been a good player and a great coach.
A University of Winnipeg varsity star who had become a highly-successful high school coach — his high school teams reached seven MSHSAA Final Fours during a nine-year stretch — Schepp was also an assistant coach at the University of Winnipeg and had coached a number of provincial teams and elite club teams to successful finishes at national events.
So when he showed up at the U of M seven years ago to take over as the team’s head basketball coach, he vowed to make the Bisons great again. To his undying credit, he’s on the verge of delivering.
“When I first came here, we changed our style immediately,” said Schepp, smiling. “We almost instantly became one of the top scoring teams in the country.”
“But while we became a lot more exciting, it didn’t necessarily mean we were instantly successful. That took time and it took a lot of work.”
It would appear that all that work has paid dividends. Schepp’s Bisons were ranked ninth in the country at the end of last season. It was the first time the Bisons had finished a season ranked in the Top 10 in Canada in more than two decades.
“He’d be the CIS version of Russell Westbrook. He plays angry. He looks like he’s actually angry at his opponent. He had a great off-season and he’ll be one of our leaders again this year.”
This year, Schepp’s team of local high school stars will start the schedule ranked among the Top 3 in Canada West and there is no reason to believe that they won’t compete for a spot in the national tournament.
“It’s certainly better to be winning,” Schepp said with a smile. “This is a good team and it was built in Winnipeg. We have three good players from outside Winnipeg – Jonathan Alexander and Oshahon Eghosa are from Toronto and Ilarion Bonhomme is from Washington, D.C. – but our starters will all be from Winnipeg.”
One of the most impressive players to watch, anywhere in Canada, is Bisons 6-foot-2 point guard Justus Alleyn. Last year Alleyn, who played his high school ball at St. Paul’s, averaged 15.1 points and 2.8 assists per game. He also averaged 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
“He’s a great player,” Schepp said without any sense of hyperbole. “He’d be the CIS version of Russell Westbrook. He plays angry. He looks like he’s actually angry at his opponent. He had a great off-season and he’ll be one of our leaders again this year.”
Alleyn is complemented in the back court by A.J. Basi, the Bisons leading scorer last season and one of the best shooters in the nation. Basi came out of Sturgeon Heights Collegiate and is expected to be one of the top offensive players in the country in this, his senior year.
“He’s our leading scorer and our shooting guard,” said Schepp. “In fact, we expect him to be one of the better shooters in the country. A.J. is instant offence.”
Up front, the Bisons will once again be led by 6-foot-4 Grant Park graduate Keith Omoerah. This is a guy who might have been one of the best receivers in CIS football had he chosen football over basketball.
“He has the ability to do anything, play every position on the floor — from point guard to power forward. In our physical testing, he had a one-step 40-inch vertical. He is an NFL-level athlete.”
“Keith is one of the best athletes in the country,” said Schepp. “He has the ability to do anything, play every position on the floor — from point guard to power forward. In our physical testing, he had a one-step 40-inch vertical. He is an NFL-level athlete.”
Up front, Schepp says he expects to start 6-foot-6 Joey Nitychoruk from St. Paul’s and 6-foot-7 Brett Jewell from John Taylor.
“Joey is 6-foot-6 and very athletic,” said the coach. “He was rehabbing an injury and red-shirted last year. This year he’s ready to go and I expect he’ll start at forward while Brett will play power forward and in the middle. He’s 6-foot-7, about 250-260. He’s big and he’s a phenomenal athlete. In fact, I’d say he’s one of the strongest athletes in the country. As big as he is, we did a sprint test this past year and he was the third fastest guy on the team. Considering his size, that’s incredible.”
Clearly, Schepp and the Bisons will be solid this season, but that doesn’t mean the coach didn’t go out and recruit. In fact, he added last season’s best high school player in Manitoba, John Taylor’s 6-foot-7 James Wagner.
“He was the best player in the province last year and it’s quite a coup that we got him,” Schepp said proudly. “I was just with the Junior National Team last week and he was the last player cut. He’s just a great athlete. He’s strong and can play all over the floor. He’s a good student, he works hard and he just loves the game. He’s a guy who checks all the boxes.”
The University of Manitoba Bison men’s basketball teams has been built to compete at the highest level in the country. It wasn’t easy getting back to the top, but after seven years at the helm, Kirby Schepp has made U of M basketball exciting again.