NORTH VANCOUVER — Cam Mowat doesn’t need to take even a second to ponder the question.
“I haven’t done the math, but I know you have kids here who are now at Handsworth who know exactly who he was, what his history is, and how they can be motivated by his story,” says the third-year head coach of the Royals senior varsity boys basketball team.
Mowat, of course, is talking about the late Quinn Keast, the former Handsworth standout with whom he had the pleasure of playing with for one season, and who was tragically killed in a pedestrian accident on his high school grad night in June of 2006.
On Thursday, the event formerly known as the North Shore Invitational and now so appropriately renamed The ‘No Regrets’ Basketball Tournament in honour of the mantra Keast tried to live by over his short life, opens a three-day run on four fronts (Handsworth, Carson Graham, Argyle, Collingwood)along the North Shore. (full info here)
On Monday, after I finished speaking with Mowat, I kept thinking about what he said.
I kept thinking about how no one in his tight-knit North Vancouver sports community really needs to add up the years to truly measure how important the message of No Regrets has become.
But then I actually did the math, and although it’s the feeling that matters most, I felt a symbolic power in the answer.
Every senior on every high school basketball team in B.C. this season entered Grade 1 in the fall of 2006, some three months after Keast’s passing.
On the North Shore, what that stands for is so significant it’s hard to put into words.
But I will say this: There have been few student-athletes whom I have reported on since the early 1980s, who to me, carried themselves with as genuine a vibe as Quinn Keast.
I have often read over the quotes he gave me over the two seasons I reported on him, and to this day, they stand apart.
And it is that precise aura, one remembered through his No Regrets’ motto, his tireless work ethic and love of life that has been so accurately preserved and celebrated through not only the proactive work of his foundation, but through the street-level chatter of this current generation.
REMEMBERING A GRADE 10 QUINN
Cam Mowat was a Handsworth senior in the 2003-04 season, my first back on the high school sports beat since my days covering the Vancouver Grizzlies.
I spent that season watching his talented Royals team, one coached by Randy Storey and one which was just learning how to take its biggest steps.
It was a team that featured the L.A. Laker-to-be Robbie Sacre, as a 6-foot-11 Grade 9 prodigy, and an incredibly talented back court which included the maniacally-intense 11th grade guard Tyler Kepkay, and the smooth, ice-veined 10th grader Scott Leigh.
Up front, alongside the as-yet baby Sacre was a tough-minded 6-foot-6 senior forward named Cam Mowat, and a Grade 10 guard-forward named Quinn Keast.
Mowat, now a 31-year-old banker by trade, and in his third season as Royals head coach, fondly remembers what Keast brought to the team that season.
“He was up with the senior boys that season (as a JV-aged player) but he never backed down from anyone in practice or games,” says Mowat, who went on to a university career at Bishops. “He knew he was supposed to be there and he played like it.”
With no regrets.
BRINGING BACK THE ROYALS’ VIBE
In keeping with the theme of not doing the math and simply appreciating what the Keast story has come to represent, the simple act of chatting with Mowat in his position as the team’s head coach puts perspective on the time that has indeed passed.
Yes, a former teammate of Keast’s now coaches the Handsworth senior varsity.
And for Mowat, who credits the likes of Blair Shier and Murray Parker as influential coaching mentors, there is huge significance to sitting in the lead chair with the chance to guide his old school.
“You always want to give back to the program that did so much for you,” Mowat begins. “The program is what got me into university and helped me finish my education. And then coaching for three years with Blair and Murray Parker, they really helped me fall in love with coaching.”
His return to Handsworth, both as an assistant and head coach, is now sitting at somewhere around seven seasons, and truth be told, this current edition of the Royals might be the school’s best since the Randy Storey era.
Last season, with a huge core of Grade 11s, the Royals qualified for the B.C. AAAA tourney as an 11 seed, and matched up against No. 6 W.J. Mouat in the opening round, trailed by just one point, 52-51, with 2:25 remaining, before losing 60-55.
The maturation process, much as it was with Handsworth over those key years from 2003-04 through 2006-07, is very evident.
The Royals’ second game of the season, their opener at last week’s Kodiak Classic at Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Secondary, was a 69-63 win over preseason No. 1 Holy Cross.
Handsworth finished off the event by beating Mouat 56-44.
BUILT WITH ‘NO REGRETS’ DNA
If you ask Mowat to describe his 2003-04 team, I’m betting it’s pretty close in answer to the one he gives when asked for a handle on his 2017-18 Royals.
“I think tenacity would be a good word with these guys,” says Mowat, who has seen enough growth potential and future parity within the talent pool this season that he has decided to run with 16 players: Eight seniors and eight Grade 11s.
“They really want to win and that boils down to how they practice and how they come out in games. It’s a pleasure to be involved with a group of guys like that.”
Ben Grant, Blake McLean and Stanley Choo were key players last season as underclassmen, and now they are true leaders.
Jake Horn and Nate Watters are two more essential seniors within the mix.
But Mowat didn’t go with 16 guys just to better fill out a box score. Often times, when you see the future that exists with the underclassmen, and you know their shared time with the Grade 12s can do wonders, you put them together with the hope that higher bars are set.
It’s about imagining what is possible.
But it’s also fun to imagine what a certain kid from the Class of 2006 would bring to this Class of 2018 team.
I’m betting Quinn Keast vintage 2005-06 would find very little different some 12 seasons later and that’s because this current team really seems to be cut from the same cloth.
Like Mowat, I don’t need to do the so-called math to say that.
All these years later, I just know.
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