South Kamloops Titans' guard Nick Sarai is one-half of the Titans' one-two provincial team back-court punch. (Photo -- Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

TBI 2017: South Kam Titans return to LEC hungrier than ever after BC AAA title-game loss

Just under a decade ago, the South Kamloops Titans set the standard for imposing teams within their senior boys basketball program. 

Kelly Olynyk, Josh Wolfram and David Wagner up front along with guard John Bantock, and all on the same team?

Those Titans, however, were unable to win a provincial senior varsity title.

Nine seasons later, welcome the latest edition, a team coming off a 69-63 B.C. Triple A championship finals loss last March to Abbotsford’s Rick Hansen Hurricanes, and one which returns eight players including three of its front-line starters.

“I told our guys that this is a position that not many teams find themselves in,” explained head coach Tim Unaegbu of a loaded Titans team which was tabbed at No. 1 in the B.C. Triple A preseason poll, and who will be part of a star-studded 16-team field at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational Dec. 7-9 at the Langley Events Centre.

“How many teams make it to the finals with mostly Grade 11s and 10s and even a Grade 9?” continued Unaegbu, a Terry Fox grad who has helped bring South Kam hoops back to the forefront. “It’s huge because you know the recipe from last year. We snuck under the radar then but now we have to know that people are coming for us. They all want a piece of us.”

Unaegbu began to realize that a day after last season’s B.C. tournament was over.

He accepted his spot in the 2017 TBI in the moments following his team’s loss to Rick Hansen.

“This is the first year we were actually invited to the bigger tournaments,” Unaegbu laughed. “I had the chance to pick and choose, where normally I am calling asking if my team can come.”

South Kamloops guard Reid Jansen will team with Nick Sarai as part of the Titans’ experienced backcourt. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)

The talent is undeniable.

In the back court, the Titans march out one of the most imposing guard tandems in B.C. in provincial team members Reid Jansen and Nick Sarai, both seniors.

And in the front court, centre Ripley Martin, disguised in last season’s championship program at 6-foot-7, enters his senior season standing 6-foot-10.

“Everyone has their bias,” says Unaegbu, “but I think (Jansen and Sarai) are two who can be the top guards in the province, and they proved it on the B.C. team. And Ripley is a special player, so tough. And he can run with the guards.”

Senior guard Evan Jumaga, a shooter, is also a key part of the puzzle and Martin’s increased size and presence provides increased opportunity for the Titans’ guard group to do even more damage.

Josh and Sam Jean, a pair of Grade 11 guards who played with the senior varsity last season, also return and bring a real defensive presence.

And among the rising JVs are  Graeme Koopes and Foster Wynne.

Unaegbu could sense the tight bond of his team getting even tighter over the summer.

Like he said, this is an opportunity which doesn’t come around often and he doesn’t want his team to say ‘What if.’”

In fact, this is what he told Varsity Letters in the moments after his team lost to Rick Hansen last March in the title game: “We’re a young team, and that means we’re resilient. I don’t even have to say anything. They will all be in the gym tomorrow. I kid you not. Our young guys saw what they had to do and what it is going to take, and they don’t like losing.”

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