The story of the night: Holy Cross guard Michael Risi stares head-on at the offensive wizardry of Oak Bay guard Diego Maffia in the 20th Legal Beagle championship final staged Saturday night at Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Secondary School gym. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

A SUNDAY READ from Legal Beagle ’19: Why Holy Cross’ Michael Risi & Oak Bay’s Diego Maffia make BC high school basketball so special

PORT COQUITLAM — Michael Risi was handed the defensive assignment of his life Saturday evening, and when you consider it came at a basketball tournament known simply as ‘The Beagle’, it seemed fitting that all he needed in order to proceed was a figurative whiff of Diego Maffia’s sneakers.

From there, he knew just what to do.

On the occasion of the championship final of the 30th Terry Fox Secondary Legal Beagle Invitational, Risi, a 6-foot-2 stuntman of a guard with Surrey’s No. 4-ranked Holy Cross Crusaders was instructed to hound Quad-A’s most elusive scoring machine: Fox-clever Maffia of Victoria’s No. 8-ranked Oak Bay Bays.

Easier said than done, right?

Well, actually, it seemed more like Mission: Impossible.

Just one night before in the tourney semifinals, Maffia had gone the length of the court and hit the most dramatic shot of the 2018-19 boys season thus far, a 30-foot trey at the buzzer which gave the Bays a 73-72 win over the host Ravens.

Yet on Saturday, Risi did what no one else has been able to do this season: Hold a guy who has been averaging 34 points-per-game to just seven points on the game, three of which came off a late trey, as the Crusaders claimed a 75-58 victory over No. 6 Oak Bay.

“The game plan was to try to limit Diego Maffia,” began Holy Cross head coach Anthony Pezzente after the win, “but I wasn’t expecting that we were going to hold him to seven points.

“But with a kid like Michael Risi, it’s easier to play defence like that,” the coach continued of needing someone not only capable of bringing every fundamental to the table, but also being able figuratively step out of one’s own body and find a new level of devotion to the task.

“He is tough-nosed,” continued Pezzente of Risi, who fittingly, was later named the tournament’s Defensive MVP. “He doesn’t care who he goes up against, and he isn’t intimidated. He just wants to go out and play hard every possession. He is a smart player who understood the game plan.”

Holy Cross’ tournament MVP Uyi Ologhola (left) got in on the defensive act as well Saturday, stepping in against Oak Bay’s Diego Maffia in the Legal Beagle tourney finale in PoCo. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

A CLASH OF CLASS ACTS

If you have watched Diego Maffia throughout his senior varsity high school basketball career, and you tried to catalog what it is about him that makes him one of the most special offensive players of his generation, you would soon realize that he goes beyond the Xs and Os, and into an area where natural instincts take over.

That’s what makes him so hard to stop. 

Forget about the fact that he doesn’t pass the pre-game lay-up line eye test.

He is at once, a series of constantly flowing currents, all seemingly independent in motion, each capable of helping him reach that quiet place in the storm, where, for a split second, he is free to score the basketball.

It can be as simple as step-back, as unexplainable as a forward-lurching jab step, and as confounding as a rapid-fire series of hesitation dribbles, and all of which are enough to leave defenders flat-footed and stuttering.

So when the guy that creates all of that havoc is willing to come clean on the guy who just spent 40 straight minutes defending him, you know Michael Risi did something pretty special and that mutual respect between young athletes is something that will never go out of style.

“I think for me, it’s props to Risi,” said the classy Maffia who opened the game by going 0-for-10 from the field. “He is one of the best defenders in the province and he did a great job denying me, and staying with me and playing physical. I think missing a few early shots, and the way they were doubling hard, when I got rid of the ball it was hard to get it back. All of that combined to make it hard for me to get my shot off, and get into a groove.”

Risi’s thoughts?

“Diego is just a hell of a player,” he said of the Bays’ 6-foot-2 guard, before adding that the time the two spent together this past summer on Basketball B.C.’s provincial team offered the perk of being able to able to observe what can only be called The Maffia Magic.

“I have to credit that time for being able to get to know his tendencies,” continued Risi, who also happened to lead his team in scoring with 17 points. “But it was also coach (Anthony Pezzente’s) game plan. I pride myself on my defence. For me, personally, it’s not what I do on the offensive end because I know guys like (tournament MVP) Uyi (Ologhola) and Brent (Padilla) can put the ball through the hoop. But if I can limit (the other team’s) best player, then that is a win for me.”

Your very own Beagle keepsake. Here’s the official hand-written ledger from Saturday’s 30th Legal Beagle final.

It’s not, however, like the Bays were without an offensive force.

Grade 11 Jaime Palomos Molins scored a game-high 29 points in the loss.

Yet as the two teams prepared for chess, it is with no slight to the very-talented and promising Palomos Molins to say that in terms of pre-determined sacrifice, at this stage of his career, it’s a completely different matter to allow any Bays player other than Maffia to get into a scoring groove, and the same axiom would apply to 98 per cent of teams around the province.

“We were (willing) to let other people score,” said Holy Cross coach Pezzente. “Jaime scored 20-something. But we still executed our game plan. We gapped where we should have gapped. Michael did a great job and we made life tough for Diego. And, we also got lucky because he missed a few shots. But a big part of it is that we played enough good defence.”

Dedicated to the task, Holy Cross’ Michael Risi (left) reacquainted himself with the volume of offensive moves in the catalog of Oak Bay’s star guard Diego Maffia on Saturday. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

A CLASH OF CLASSY TITANS

It’s important to applaud excellence, but it’s equally important to understand that Saturday’s happenings didn’t occur in a vacuum.

When it was suggested to Maffia in the aftermath of defeat Saturday that his eight-man team was just plain dog-tired, he offered some push back.

“I don’t think we can use fatigue as an excuse,” he said. “We try to bring energy, but having eight people is hard and we don’t have tall people to bail us out on the rebounds.”

There was also the mental side of responding from their last-second victory Friday night, one in which Oak Bay not only took on the Ravens, but an entire gym full of their screaming fans.

“I think yesterday’s game wore us out emotionally…physically and mentally,” Maffia said. “That was really big. The emotions were so high that it felt like we were playing in the final against the home team. Then today, (the energy) just felt different in the locker room and when we came out on the court. Nothing clicked today.”

Yet as we officially plug both Holy Cross and Oak Bay into that crowded patchwork-quilt of B.C. Quad-A title-contending teams, Saturday’s Legal Beagle final has once again created a chapter of reference on the road to March Madness.

For Oak Bay?

“At a certain point, teams will start scheming and scheming well,” Bays head coach Chris Franklin said of the time being expended to build a better Maffia trap. “So our other guys have to have the courage to make mistakes and make plays, right? It’s just a part of basketball. Teams will be smart. They’ll have a clue. But if other guys are willing to make plays and mistakes, it will alleviate the pressure on (Maffia) and he’ll get more open shots. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen tonight.”

And for Holy Cross?

“This feels great, but I am going to go in there and tell them that this can’t be the best part of their second half,” Pezzente said before entering his team’s post-game locker room. “If it is, I’ll be upset.”

Yet after watching Risi play perhaps the most complete and most influential game of his high school career, there was still time to savour the present.

“His character is all of it,” Pezzente said. “He is one of the greatest kids I have ever coached, and what I love most about him is that he embodies what I want. On the court, he wants to kick your butt. Off the court he is one of the nicest kids in the world.”

Personally, your faithful agent can’t wait until the next time these two teams and their special respective senior leaders meet. If you’re a basketball fan, I think you can feel it coming.

LEGAL BEAGLE 2019

AWARDS

CHAMPIONSHIP POG

Michael Risi — Holy Cross

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

David Chien — Terry Fox

Brent Padilla — Holy Cross

Parker Johnstone — Kelowna

Arjun Samra — Lord Tweedsmuir

Grady Stanyer — Terry Fox

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Diego Maffia — Oak Bay

Michael Risi — Holy Cross

Jamie Palamos Molins — Oak Bay

Toni Maric — Vancouver College

Jacob Mand — Terry Fox

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER

Michael Risi — Holy Cross

TERRY FOX ALUMNI AWARD

Jacob Mand — Terry Fox

TERRY FOX AWARD

Grady Stanyer — Terry Fox

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER 

Uyi Ologhola — Holy Cross

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