VANCOUVER — Last March, they were a fourth-quarter away from the first B.C. high school championship Final Four appearance in school history.
In that manner of thinking, Vancouver’s No. 8-ranked King David Lions have not forgotten the flavour which accompanies the bitter taste of defeat.
And if the collective palate of his players hasn’t been completely rinsed clean, that’s OK with coach David Amram because motivation can be a magical elixir for the team which begins its post-season run in earnest this Tuesday when its tips off at the Lower Mainland Single-A championships at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
The No. 1 seed Lions, looking for their third straight zone title, tip off 4:30 p.m. against the winner of a Monday play-in game between No. 4 John Knox and No. 5 Stratford Hall.
As a quick refresher, there were the No. 10-seeded Lions last season, carrying a 67-63 lead into the fourth quarter of its provincial quarterfinal clash with the heavily-favoured No. 2-seed Similkameen Sparks.
But then came the Sparks, led by a trio of 20-point scorers, on a comeback rally which saw them outscore the Lions 27-12 over the final 10 minutes of play.
“I think for us, it’s been about dealing with adversity and understanding that when things don’t go our way, we can’t make excuses,” explained Amram last week. “It’s more like ‘What can we do to control our own destiny?’ and how when we’re stressed we’re not going back to old habits.”
With as talented a team as Amram’s had in his 13 seasons of building a hoops culture at Vancouver’s pluralistic Jewish community high school, the Lions boast a ton of returning depth and marquee talents in unflappable senior point guard Saul (Solly) Khalifa, and nationally-rising Grade 10 big man Oliver Munt.
Khalifa, the younger brother of Isabelle Khalifa, a rising third-year guard on the UBC Thunderbirds women’s team, is one of those granite-chinned do-it-all team leaders whose value always magnifies as the calendar turns from February to March.
“He plays harder than anyone I have seen,” begins Amram of the 6-foot-1 senior point guard who has also played 44 games this season as a forward with the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s White Rock Whalers. “He is a guy who will put his body on the line every possession, a guy who totally changes our team.”
Last season, in its loss to Similkameen, Khalifa was hounded into a 1-for-11 shooting performance, scoring just five points. Yet he had eight steals and 21 rebounds. This season, he averages in the range of 20 points, 15 rebounds and six assists per game.
“He brings that ‘compete’ that you can’t teach,” continues Amram. “He wants it so badly, sometimes he gets over-emotional, but I have always said that 90 times out of 100 it’s very constructive. He doesn’t care who gets the credit. He just wants to win.”
Flanking him in the scheme is Munt, the 6-foot-5, 215 pound forward/post who has already taken part in Canada Basketball’s big man evaluations.
“He changes our whole team at the rim,” says Amram. “If we get beat at the perimetre, just having him there alters shots and intimidates the opposition. He’s a friendly guy but his length scares guys.”
Defensively, with the likes of Munt, Khalifa, senior guard Yuval Jacob and stout Grade 11 Zevi Kline, the latter with a football background, King David has brought an increased defensive presence this season.
No. 1 King David and No. 2 St. John’s are the top two seeds heading into the Lower Mainland tourney, and the top two advance to the B.C. tournament March 6-9 at the Langley Events Centre.
The final is slated for 6:15 p.m. Thursday, with the potential of an additional 1 p.m. game Friday if the draw’s two combatants have not played earlier in the tournament.
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