COQUITLAM — It’s a bit cliche to say that someone was born to play basketball and born to play for any certain team, yet in the case of Kendal Sands, truer words could not be spoken.
On Wednesday, the star senior point guard with Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils — who was all of a day old when she attended a basketball practice on her way home from the hospital — first signs her letter of intent to play for the NCAA’s Simon Fraser Clan next season, then later caps her high school career by playing in the Fraser Valley-Lower Mainland all-star game.
“My life has just turned me in this direction,” Sands laughed after school on Tuesday as she prepared to head off to a training session. “It’s just crazy.”
Sands was born two days before the end of the century, on Dec. 29 of 1999.
At the tender age of approximately 40 hours, the bouncing baby girl first heard the sound of bouncing basketballs while being cradled by her mom Sue, who had decided to make a pit-stop at the gymnasium at Port Moody Secondary School.
“My mom didn’t tell me that story until I was 15,” says the 5-foot-9 Sands, who happened to be there that day because at the time, both her mom, and her dad Dave, were co-coaching the Blues’ senior girls varsity team. “But I guess gyms are my home, so she actually did take me home first. It’s probably why that to this day, I like being in the gym more than being home.
“That story has really stuck in my head, that my mom was in the hospital for one day and then took me to a gym before I ever even got home.”
A CLAN-DESTINED FUTURE
Sands has treasured the family feel she has developed, not only with her own teammates at Best, but with those she has met around the province throughout a senior varsity career that began as a ninth grader in the fall of 2013.
In fact as excitement built throughout the day Tuesday for Wednesday’s all-star games at Riverside Secondary in nearby Port Coquitlam, Sands was relaying that vibe with B.C.’s reigning Triple A championship MVP.
“I was just talking with Maryn today,” Sands said of Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary point guard Maryn Budiman who also suits up in the game. “We haven’t gotten the chance to play together much, but when we have, we’ve just clicked, and we’ve been friends for the last six years. Now we get to play together on the Fraser Valley team and the way I look at it, I’m starting to feel a new level of confidence as a player.”
Even if her first name, more often than not, gets mis-spelled.
It’s Kendal with one L, yet the extra L is so often added that Sands just rolls with it.
“My mom said to me one day ‘I think I spelled it wrong on your birth certificate,’” says Kendal who this season averaged 18 points, five assists, two steals and eight rebounds a game.
Regardless of how you spell it, Wednesday will read like the first page in her new chapter, the one where she signs on with the Clan in an act that seemed almost predestined.
Sue Sands, known as Sue Macpherson in her basketball-playing career with Abbotsford’s MEI Eagles and later the UBC Thunderbirds, both competed against longtime SFU head coach Bruce Langford in her high school days when he coached at Mission Secondary, and later with him as a coach within Basketball B.C.’s provincial program.
Thus on the occasion of Kendal’s birth, Langford presented a baby gift which all these years later holds huge significance for the now-high school senior.
“He gave me my first basketball shoes, at least I think they were basketball shoes,” Sands says, again with a big laugh. “We still have them around.”
For accuracy’s sake, they were baby booties, but with a distinct basketball flair.
Clarifies the mom: “They were baby slippers, but they were leather Air Jordan-type baby slippers.”
That’s why it’s so fitting that this fall, almost 18 years later, in the West Gym atop Burnaby Mountain, Sands will lace up the real things and play for the only team she had ever envisioned herself joining.
ALL MEANT TO BE?
Sue Sands recently found a copy of an old letter that she had written, and which both she and Kendal gasped at when they finished reading.
In 2001, former Canadian national team head coach Alison McNeill had left her position as the Clan’s head coach to join the coaching staff of her alma mater at the University of Oregon.
Sue Sands had written a letter to the hiring committee at Simon Fraser, pointing out all of the great qualities Langford would bring to the position after having coached 21 previous seasons in the B.C. school system.
“I was maybe two when she wrote that letter and at the end, my mom writes ‘I have a young daughter and I can only hope that one day she plays for this man.’
“How amazing is that?” Kendal continued. “Think of how many schools there are out there, and I picked the one where the coach gave me my first pair of basketball shoes and he’s the same guy my mom hoped I’d one day play for. That’s crazy.”
Yet Sands had never wanted to play for anyone else.
She attended her first Clan women’s basketball games before she was 10.
In fifth grade, at Coquitlam’s Riverview Park Elementary, she was taught by the mom of then-SFU star Kristina Collins. The young Sands would hang on every word that Eva Collins would mention about her daughter and the team on the hill.
“I can still remember the day when Kristina Collins was named (Canada West) Freshman of the Year and I was in class when Mrs. Collins got the call. She just broke down she was so happy.”
And Sands can remember the thrill she experienced when her mini-dribblers team actually got a chance to go out on the floor at halftime of a Clan game and play in front of the big crowd.
It was a moment that made her hunger even more to play on that grand stage.
“I really, really loved the environment there,” she says with clarity of SFU. “I can distinctly remember a basket I scored. A reverse lay-up. The crowd… they all cheered. I was like nine at the time, I think and I just thought ‘Oh my God, what a feeling.’”
AN ALL-STAR FINISH
The career of a lot of talented high seniors winds up Wednesday at Riverside, incidentally the alma mater of Kristina Collins and the program whose head coach, for the better part of a generation, has been Paul Langford, the brother of Clan coach Bruce.
There have been highs and lows for Sands over her career.
Both Sue and Kendal speak so highly of Mike Hind, who as Best’s coach, led the team to back-to-back B.C. tournament appearances over Kendal’s Grade 10 and 11 seasons.
This past season, Sue Sands, who had assisted Hind, took over the head coaching chores, and challenged by numbers, the Blue Devils failed to make the B.C. tournament in Kendal’s senior year.
With a roster of just six players, Best had a tough time getting better in practice, and on four occasions, the team finished games with just four players.
The silver lining to that scenario? They won three of them.
Yet after losing to Riverside in a sudden-elimination game at the Fraser Valley Championships, the first thing that went through Sands’ mind was that she wouldn’t get to play another game in her high school jersey.
“One of my first thoughts was ‘I don’t get to play in the all-star game,’” she admits. “It’s something I was looking forward to over my whole high school career because of all of the friends I had made. But then I found out that it was being played as a Fraser Valley vs. Lower Mainland game. And then I heard that I would get to play.”
All of that makes Wednesday a pretty special day for one of the last December babies of the last century.
In a gym just 40 hours after she was born, she learned to crawl in baby slippers from her soon-to-be university head coach, a guy her mom had hoped almost 18 years ago would be her university coach.
It’s all so great that it almost sounds too good to be true. Yet true it all is.
You can’t make this stuff up.
(The all-star festivities begin Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with a Valley vs Mainland Futures game. The senior Valley-Mainland all-star game tips off at 8:15 p.m.)
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