The Portage Collegiate Trojans varsity boys basketball team is returning to the court.

The team went 6-3 last season before losing their first playoff game to the Westwood Warriors. While they do have some returning players, head coach Darin Arnold says a lot of their focus in the early going will be on the fundamentals.

"COVID affected this group more. Last year I had a really strong group of Grade 12s, so the Grade 11s didn't get to play a big role and then the Grade 11s this year have only one year of basketball experience," Arnold continues. "So, it's been a lot of teaching the basics. We've improved steadily as the practices have gone on."

Arnold says they were planning on playing an exhibition game earlier this week against Winkler and heading out to a tournament in Brandon this weekend, however, mother nature had other plans. The team still hopes to have one preseason contest this coming week, and Arnold outlines what he'll be looking for in that one.

"Confidence. The playing experience for this group isn't as big as it normally is. So, I want to see the boys go out and play with confidence and execute the things we've worked on in practice," Arnold explains. "Communication as well. Getting them to talk to each other and communicate. They're not a very loud group, so there's a lot of learning to do in a short amount of time."

While this group of guys may not have played as much organized basketball as many others by this point in high school, PCI will not be the only team with this obstacle. Every school in the region had to deal with COVID-19 in the same way, resulting in two lost basketball seasons for all high school athletes.

With this being the case, Arnold says he will have to alter his approach when coaching a little bit.

"You can't assume that any of these kids know how to do stuff (on the court). So, we've been working a lot on motion actions. Rather than running bigger and more advanced sets, we've been getting our motion actions down," Arnold notes. "If they want to put in the work and they're dedicated, they'll get there eventually. This December, we'll spend a lot of time making sure they know what their job is and how to execute when they get on the court."

Arnold notes the team is excited to get their first taste of competition after almost a month of just practicing. He hopes to help give them that opportunity if the weather cooperates on Monday when they travel to Winkler to take on the Garden Valley Zodiacs.