NORTH DELTA — Twenty-nine seasons after their last grand triumph, Husky pride has once again hit the heights and it will all be on display for three days later this week at the Langley Events Centre.
“We’re not looking for a participation medal,” North Delta Huskies senior boys basketball head coach Jesse Hundal said Monday morning, one week into a brand-new season and three days ahead of the B.C. Triple-A No. 1-ranked ‘Dawgs tip-off Thursday (7:30 p.m.) against Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 opening-round of the 2018 Tsumura Basketball Invitational. (Full draw is below)
“We’ve got some unfinished business to take care of,” continued Hundal, whose then largely-Grade 11 Huskies fell 76-64 at the LEC to Burnaby’s Byrne Creek Bulldogs in the semifinals of last season’s provincial tournament. “Whatever it takes to bring a championship to North Delta, and to our community is what we want to do because they deserve it.”
Of course this coming March will mark 29 years since the 1989-90 North Delta Huskies won the school’s last title, a top-tiered AAA crown that came on the strength of one of the most dominant seasons in our game’s history.
That season, with current North Delta lead assistant Bill Edwards in the head coach’s seat, the Huskies started the campaign with a 5-3 record, but proceeded to win 37 straight games to finish 42-3, that final triumph coming 75-66 over the Richmond Colts at the PNE Agrodome.
That team, led by a galaxy of stars including the likes of forward Chad Johnston, and guards Mitch Berger, Kelly Gordon and Oran Walwyn, was dynamic for its time.
And the same can be said of the current group, regardless of the fact that they play at Triple A in what is now a four-tiered province.
And as the Huskies prep for TBI on Thursday, they do so in the knowledge that in this recent era of widespread tier integration, that they would likely be a Top 10 team at the Quad A level as well.
North Delta’s results at last weekend’s season-opening Kodiak Invitational at Heritage Woods Secondary in Port Moody seems to suggest just that.
After losing 83-74 to last season’s Alberta Quad A provincial runner-up Bishop O’Byrne of Calgary, the Huskies followed suit with wins over three other TBI invitees in Coquitlam’s Quad A Centennial Centaurs (77-67), Byrne Creek (84-73) and the Quad-A No. 9 Kelowna Owls (75-63).
Bishop O’Byrne went on to beat Quad A No. 1 Burnaby South 65-63 in the tourney final, and North Delta’s nine-point loss to the eventual champs from Calgary was O’Byrne’s next closest margin of defeat among B.C. teams as O’Byrne beat Quad A No. 6 St. George’s 81-71 in round two, and Quad A No. 4 Terry Fox 117-87 in the semifinals.
“The big thing with our guys is that they are not scared of anybody,” added Hundal. “There might have been some psychological stuff with other teams having to face the team that was in the Alberta final last season, but for our guys, it’s who we wanted. And we came out with fire in our hearts.”
North Delta, in fact, led by 16 points in the first half, but went to the break locked in a tie before losing by nine.
The Huskies had a similar lull in their third game of the tourney against Byrne Creek, but this time managed to win, exorcising the ghosts of their B.C. semifinal loss in which the Bulldogs switched up their defensive scheme in the second half, and got to the final by going on a 16-point run.
And so for Hundal, the key to the season for his charges will be to play four quarters of relentless basketball, with every possession attacked and defended with the same amount of top-level intensity.
Of course he has the perfect player with which to lead that charge.
Suraj Gahir, whom Hundal labels a ‘once-in-a-generation’ type talent, returns for his senior year after a dedicated and much-needed off-season spent in the weight room.
Already the owner of five-position adaptability, the 6-foot-4 guard has added between 15-to-20 pounds to his frame, and that has made all the difference in allowing Gahir to yield results when playing through the physical contact he has always drawn like a magnet.
“He is one more year into understanding what senior basketball is all about,” add Hundal. “He is an electrifying talent and if we played him all four quarters, he’d average a quad double.”
If you were to look over the past 30 years of Husky greats who sizzled as guards with attacking skills, Gahir sits right up there on the mantle with the likes of Berger, Craig Preece and Davis Sanchez, with a far-ranging skill set which reflects the best of each past player.
And if that weren’t enough, what this 2018-19 Huskies team has working in its favour is its senior service.
Point guard Arun Atker is lightning quick, and on a team not blessed with a lot of size, 6-foot-4 forward Vikram Hayer will be the heart-and-soul paint presence and the blue-collard soldier who can not afford to take a minute off.
Jagraj Johal and Ryan Cabico are another pair of essential guards, while Bhavraj Thiara is a senior scoring forward. Sagar Ranouta is an improving Grade 11 two-way guard.
And getting back to the issue of letting opposition teams off the hook, overcoming that is all part-and-parcel of the maturation process for the Huskies.
Last season, North Delta fell short of reaching the B.C. final in large part because its players were still not quite mature enough to react as a team to the changing schematics that can occur in the heat of battle, especially in a high-stakes game like a provincial AAA Final Four.
“We have worked so much on situational basketball,” Hundal says when asked about that part of the team’s growth. “We’ll have a more dynamic look than last year when to a large extent, our Grade 11s carried us. A year later they can make adjustments on their own.”
All of that has been a point of pride for both Hundal and Edwards, as well as assistants Manvir Gahir and Gary Sandhu, the latter two who have overseen individual workouts and strength training respectively.
“The biggest lesson we learned from last year is that when you get up on a team, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal,” Hundal says. “We have to be mentally dialled-in all the time.
“But the best thing about these guys is, they all want to win so bad.”
It’s a simple sentiment, but in the end, the most important one of all.
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