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Injuries, academic issues take three players out of action for UNBC men, now ranked third in Canada The UNBC Northern Timberwolves should have been heading into the 2010 portion of their season on a physical and emotional high.

Injuries, academic issues take three players out of action for UNBC men, now ranked third in Canada

The UNBC Northern Timberwolves should have been heading into the 2010 portion of their season on a physical and emotional high. Instead, they have been slammed by a couple significant player losses.

The Timberwolves, winners of a major men's basketball tournament in Calgary during the Christmas break, won't have Jesse Smith in their lineup for an extended period of time and won't have Didier Sam at all. Smith suffered a broken thumb on his right hand during a practice last week and Sam didn't meet the academic requirements during his first-semester courses and is now ineligible to play. Smith and Sam are both third-year post players.

To make matters worse at that position, rookie Abdu Benrabah suffered a ruptured appendix during the holidays and was hospitalized for 10 days. Benrabah lost 26 pounds and is still recovering from his ordeal. His playing status is questionable for the immediate future, including for road games Friday and Saturday against the Camosun College Chargers of Victoria.

Smith, who had surgery on Thursday, could miss the rest of the season.

"It really depends on how it heals," said UNBC head coach Mike Raimbault. "Originally it was four to six (weeks) but then I heard the possibility that he could be well enough to play in a couple weeks. Then I also heard after his surgery that it could be more like six to eight (weeks)."

The T-wolves went 6-1 in the first part of the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association season and trail only the Vancouver Island University Mariners (7-0) in the standings. UNBC does have an abundance of talent at all positions but its depth at post will now be tested. Raimbault will now have to lean more heavily on veteran Dennis Stark and rookie Kevan Madsen, a pair of Kelly Road secondary graduates. The six-foot-four Stark was a second-team all-star at last season's national championship tournament and the six-foot-nine Madsen -- though young and lean -- is developing into a defensive presence in the paint.

Kenny Carnes, another first-year post player, is now also in line for more court time.

"We've got guys that are definitely capable of stepping up and we just have to band together and have each guy bring a little bit more toughness," Raimbault said. "We'll concentrate on our team game and go out and battle.

"I expect us to play a bit of small ball, with four guards, as well. We're obviously going to have to make a few adjustments on a few things but I'm expecting to go out and just continue to do what we do."

The Timberwolves started the season at No. 4 in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association rankings but slipped to seventh after a loss to the Langara College Falcons on the opening weekend. Following their tournament victory at Calgary's SAIT, the T-wolves moved back up on the national list and, as of Monday, were sitting at No. 3.

"It's nice to be recognized for that but the most important thing is our game Friday night against Camosun," Raimbault said.

The ninth-place Chargers struggled to a 2-9 record in the first half of the season.