SURREY — In these days of wireless hi-tech everything, there is something about the telekinetic link between Adam Paige and Vlad Mihaila which makes you want to call them Bluetooth basketball brothers.
“Yeah, it’s something like that,” laughs Mihaila, one half of the dynamic duo for Surrey’s Quad A No. 2-ranked Semiahmoo Totems senior varsity team. “We’ve grown up neighbours, 30 seconds away from each other and really, we’re best friends outside of basketball. All the time we’ve spent together has strengthened our connection on the court to the point where I am really aware of his skills, and he of mine.”
They always seem to know where the other is. In any situation. At any part of the court. Regardless of time or tempo. You know the drill.
Yet this story of basketball brotherhood is about so much more than two great players on one of B.C.’s best high school teams.
It’s about a program experiencing its first full cycle of excellence within a re-birth orchestrated by a young head coach who, in these days of wireless hi-tech everything, will still hang his hat on the gut feeling he gets from good, old-fashioned low-tech intuition.
You know, that simple act of human interaction, made all the more memorable when two little kids turn what could have been an instantly-forgettable meet-and-greet with their future mentor into the kind of moment that these days, seems to stand larger than life.
“I met both of them on the same day,” remembers Semiahmoo head coach Ed Lefurgy, when asked about the now 6-foot-4 wing Mihaila and the now 6-foot-8 forward Paige.
“Our basketball program likes to get out in the community, and I met Adam and Vlad when they came to our school for our elementary school feeder tournament (in 2012). Both of them were in Grade 6.”
Not to doubt Lefurgy for a second, but if you’ve ever attended such events, what is usually most memorable is the amount of noise and chaos which is brought to the gym, and the amount of dried mud that always seems to be left behind.
So what possessed him to remember meeting two 11-year-olds all those years ago?
“When I talked to them,” says Lefurgy, “both of them looked me right in the eye. Instantly, I can tell a kid is coachable if he does that. It was all in their body language. They were keen.”
SETTING THE TEMPLATE
When Ed Lefurgy came to Semiahmoo Secondary for the 2009-10 season, following a playing career with the UFV Cascades, his first assignment was in the trenches with the Totems’ Grade 8 boys team.
It may not have been a glamorous way to debut in the high school coaching profession, yet it was nonetheless a starting point for Lefurgy to bring his holistic, multi-pronged approach to the fore, essentially attempting to have as many parts of a high school’s own community join hands in celebration of the potential of student-athletes.
“I think that one good thing we do is that we get our older kids to mentor our younger kids,” says Lefurgy, who these days is happy to report that for the past two seasons, Paige and Mihaila have together coached local elementary school teams, paying forward their former position as mentees.
“We value our open gyms, we value our morning shootarounds,” he continues. “It’s through them that kids like Vlad and Adam have had the opportunity to be around really good, older basketball players. Now, the pendulum has swung and they are mentoring our younger players.”
Last season, the pair coached a split Grade 6/7 boys team at H.T. Thrift Elementary, and this season, they are working with the Grade 7 boys at neighbouring Semiahmoo Trail.
“It has been really cool,” says Mihaila. “Looking back now, I see the impact the older guys had on us as younger players. And when you know all that, it’s easier to be a mentor and help set a positive mindset.”
PAIGE AFTER PAIGE
Adam Paige has spent his senior season at Semiahmoo showing, without much room for doubt, that he is one of the most dominant basketball-volleyball athletes in recent provincial history.
Not since Terry Fox’s Ryan Sclater, the B.C. AAA basketball MVP in 2012 who later led Trinity Western to national championship glory on the volleyball court, has there been such a well-rounded spike-dunk double threat.
Paige has chosen basketball, and in doing so, effectively cut his list of suitors in half.
And even though he won’t continue playing volleyball in the future, there is a useful residue from the past two seasons in which he was part of Semiahmoo’s back-to-back top-tiered AAA provincial championship wins.
“I think that in my Grade 11 season with volleyball, we were pretty under-rated and no one really saw us as a top team,” begins Paige, “and the fact that we came through and won it has really helped me this year in terms of reinforcing that it doesn’t matter who believes in you as long as your teammates do.”
To wit, the No. 2-ranked Totems could well put themselves in the rare position of winning both top-tiered senior boys volleyball and basketball titles in the same school year.
“Adam is probably the most coachable kid I have ever had,” begins Lefurgy when asked about his senior big man who averages 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. “At every moment, whether it’s encouragement or harsh words, he takes it all in. And when he does, he looks me right in the eye.”
No surprise there.
And also no surprise that Lefurgy sees the sky as Paige’s limit once immersed into the more basketball-focused collegiate atmosphere.
“He has played a ton of sports, and he’s been a two-sport guy right through high school so once he makes basketball his sole focus, he will be able to grow so much more,” says Lefurgy of Paige who will audition for Canada’s national cadet team later this year. “With his frame, his seven-foot wingspan and his flexibility, I can see him being a starting four-man on a national championship team and a conference all-star.”
VLAD ALL OVER
Work as hard on your game for as long as Vlad Mihaila has, and you get the kind of confidence that is at once team-directed and fun to watch.
“Lots of guys like to score,” begins Lefurgy, “but Vlad loves to score. He absolutely loves to score.”
In concert with Paige’s inside excellence, Mihaila brings averages of 25 points and eight rebounds to the dance, his offerings coming in aggressive, explosive and often acrobatic ways.
“I see myself as an elite scorer,” admits Mihaila, “but I don’t value that to a crazy extent. I just try to make the right play. That means if I am in the right position, I feel like I can put it in the hoop. But over the years I also feel I have also developed my ability to read help-side defence and create more for my teammates.”
There remains an old-school quality of consistency to everything he does, and when you ask Lefurgy about it, that side of Mihaila hasn’t changed since the two first met six years ago.
“The first thing I say about him is that Vlad has played more basketball than any kid I’ve coached,” says Lefurgy. “And the thing I cherish most about him, is the fact that he has always showed up to everything we have ever done. He has never missed anything. When you get to senior (varsity) in high school, or to university, players always miss something. He has never missed.”
Yet there is also another side to him, one which makes him a natural team leader.
“It’s about how much compassion he has always had,” begins Lefurgy. “Vlad has always been so aware of everyone around him. If there is a kid who is not doing well, basketball or not, he is always there. It’s a rare quality to have.”
As is Mihaila’s ability to soak in every moment of his high school experience.
“It has been inspiring for me, to meet someone like Mr. Lefurgy who has always been extremely committed and caring, and has always had the gym open for us. The amount of caring and compassion has been amazing for me to see. I would say it’s set a foundation for me.”
PASSING THE EYE TEST
And thus we arrive, shy of whatever the rest of the season has in store, at a level of full circle.
On a personal note, I coached one season of high school basketball, at North Delta’s Sands Secondary in 2009-10.
I scheduled my first-ever game for my Grade 8s on the first official day of that season.
None other than the Semiahmoo Totems, who were being coached for the first time by their new teacher, Ed Lefurgy.
Sands lost to Semiahmoo that day, after which time I decided to keep my day job as a writer.
I reference that moment, over nine years ago, only to say that it was the starting point for what Lefurgy has helped bring to his school, and that is a true program, one which has, for almost a decade, become entrenched with its community-at-large, including its neighbouring elementary schools.
Six years ago, the coach shook hands with a pair Grade 6 boys and knew he had found something unique.
“And I can tell you that the most special part for me has been finding out that they both want to coach,” Lefurgy says.
To which Paige replies: “(Coaching) is such a huge way to impact the lives of kids and I just want to share the great experiences I got here with the kids that I will be coaching.”
And along with all of that, both Paige and Mihaila will no doubt tell their own future student-athletes how important it is to pass a special kind of eye test.
“I can’t tell you that I actually remember doing it,” Paige says of looking Lefurgy in the eye the first time they met, “but my parents have always taught me about manners, and how any time someone looks at you, that you look them in the eye. It show that you are focused on them. It’s a sign of respect.”
And also a sign that the next great success story is as close as a handshake away, just waiting to happen.
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