BURNABY — Throughout the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 season, we wondered openly and talked aloud of just what was being lost by the thousands upon thousands of student-athletes across this province who were denied the myriad of benefits which come from taking part in school-based sports.
Well, the answer has come this season in all of the ways in which they are once again thriving as part of an intentional eco-system, one fostered by those coaches who truly understand the value of extra-curricular activities within the high school setting.
Yet is there any way to actually quantify that deficit, and by virtue of that tally, determine what was actually lost a year ago?
That is the broadest of questions, and one that is definitely not answered by talking about anything as defined as say, post-secondary scholarship monies.
Instead, we’re talking about what happens when you lose the actual environment of a high school sports program, one which by promoting the social, the physical and the academic within a team setting, possesses the unique ability to empower its student-athletes with the ability to understand themselves and their potential.
I think we can all agree it’s priceless.
It’s sad to think how much of that was lost a year ago when B.C. went an entire season without high school sports, and yet by that same measure, easier to appreciate just what the opportunity can mean to this season’s Class of 2022.
And what better way to celebrate the latter than to tell the story of a special athlete for whom the 2021-22 season is proving to be a godsend in terms of setting a future course filled with promise.
WHO IS THIS KID?
Marcell Sherwood is a 6-foot-6, 195-pound forward who is averaging 20.1 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for the Triple-A No. 9 provincially-ranked Byrne Creek Bulldogs of Burnaby.
And while his level of dunking ability, a rare variety played to spectacular effect well above the rim, can leave a heck of a first impression, what is easily more impressive is just how quickly he’s been able to display a well-rounded game, because his final season of high school basketball marks the first time he’s ever been taken out of the post and empowered to affect the game at virtually every part of the court.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Our video look at Byrne Creek’s Marcell Sherwood was shot and produced by former Bulldogs’ player Sampson Fang, himself a 2021 Byrne Creek graduate. This season, Fang is keeping busy over his gap year as a student-intern with Varsity Letters. Sampson, thank you for lending your expertise and sharing your love of the game!)
While he appreciates the highlight-reel side of Sherwood’s on-court persona, Byrne Creek head coach Bal Dhillon is quick to point out how essential a Grade 12 season of play has been for a player who is just now beginning to realize his potential beyond high school.
“He is a very athletic kid with length and jumping ability, and that is what people all see right off the bat, and if that is all they see, that’s fine,” said Dhillon.
“But he is much more than just an athlete… he is a basketball player. He is skilled and he really works on his game. For a player his height, he can handle the ball well, and really shoot it well, too. But most of all, he is that whole person. He’s the student who also has passions outside of the game. He’s very academic. He’s the kind of kid who can take it to the next level.”
The soft-spoken Sherwood came to Byrne Creek in the fall of 2020 as a transfer from Burnaby Central, because, as he explained, he had a number of prior friendships with many of his now-current Bulldogs teammates.
And although he, like everyone else in B.C., was unable to play for his high school team a year ago, Sherwood says the time he spent practicing actually made him fall in love with the game at level he had not yet experienced.
“During the COVID year, when I was playing basketball, I would notice that my vertical was getting higher and that my shot was starting to feel a lot better,” remembers Sherwood. “I sat there thinking ‘I shouldn’t be wasting my potential’ and as I continued to work, I started to love the game more and more.”
This season, playing within Byrne Creek’s uptempo attack with a cadre of equally-talented teammates has shown Sherwood that he is the kind of player who, with continued work, can morph from a regular down-low presence into a nimble, agile and explosive face-the-basket presence, complete with a shot-making arsenal from the three-point arc to the rim-rocking regions of the paint.
In fact, if you ask Sherwood about the individual skills of his teammates, he’ll indulge you with complete breakdowns of their strengths from dynamic Grade Grade 11 point guard Richard Moses to powerful senior forward McArthur Hilton, the latter a newcomer via the Alberta basketball scene.
He can also give you the complete book on the likes of guards like Mamadee Jawara, Mohammed Dukuly and Clifford Ocampo, as well as 6-foot-8 Grade 11 forward Biar Akuoc.
Yet of the bunch, Sherwood’s skill package is likely the most unique when you consider that he’d never truly been counted upon to supply a jump-shooting game of any significance, or taken on a defensive portfolio in which he is often tasked to take turns guarding every spot on the floor over the course of a game.
And perhaps the thing about Sherwood’s game which most clearly speaks to his basketball presence and potential?
He is shooting 72 per cent from the field.
Sure, at the high school level, playing inside against all different levels of competition, it’s nothing to get too excited about. But like the rest of the game, there are nuances which go beyond the first impressions.
“If you are just parking under the basket, that’s one thing,” says Dhillon. “But Marcell has this little floater in his game from about eight feet, he’s also got a mid-range jumper in his game where he steps back a bit, and lately he’s hitting that shot a lot against guys that are taller than him. And he’s working on hitting his threes a lot more consistently.
“It all speaks to his ability to take good shots,” Dhillon adds. “Great shot selection speaks to being unselfish and to your (basketball) IQ.”
HOW BASKETBALL CAN GIVE YOU THE WORLD
Back in 2016, in my days as the high school sports reporter at The Province newspaper, it was during an interview I had with Bal Dhillon where he talked about just how closely aligned the basketball program at Byrne Creek was with the school’s most basic mission statement.
“Byrne Creek is a community school and the very foundation of community education is care,” Dhillon said.
“That is the foundation of teaching. We should care about the kids, and they should perceive that we care about them, because when they do, they feel safe.
“So the message that we’re most mindful of is that everything starts with care. Being a good teammate is caring. And so is caring for the game. We all love basketball, so we have to play it with enthusiasm and love. That is a powerful thing for us and we talk about that on a daily basis.”
Six years later, it’s no stretch to say that as Marcell Sherwood prepares for his own cap-and-gown grad ceremony in about four of five month’s time, he has developed a care and a love for both the game and his teammates.
Out of the corner of his eye, in fact, the coach has seen it all first hand.
Over a tough past couple of weeks, including the one just past in which the Bulldogs lost decisively to No. 1 St. Patrick’s, then narrowly to No. 6 North Delta, Dhillon has observed the ways in which his senior has learned to lead.
“I have noticed him having one-on-one conversations or small group conversations before games, before practices,” notes Dhillon. “And he does it very calmly. That’s his leadership style. I’ve noticed him doing this the last two weeks when we’ve been slumping a bit.”
The Bulldogs will be looking for a defined uptick in the proceedings this coming week as they begin play at the Burnaby championships hosted by Burnaby North.
It’s the first step on the road to every team’s goal of making a deep run at the B.C. tournament March 9-12 at the LEC.
For his part, Sherwood has been good at not getting ahead of the process, putting in the work which has allowed him to move towards becoming the player he knows he can eventually become.
Before him, past Byrne Creek standouts like Abdul Bangura, a 2017 Lower Mainland all-star and former Langara Falcon, and Majok Deng, the 2018 Triple A B.C. Defensive MVP now starring in the OUA at Wilfrid Laurier, embarked on the same kinds of path Sherwood seems determined to follow.
“Majok and Abdul were both very academic and well-rounded,” commented Dhillon. “They had things going for them off the court, but in their Grade 12 years, each realized that ‘Oh, I am pretty good at (basketball) and I want to continue to do it after high school. I would put Marcell in that category.
“I think it’s a realization from him that the game can open doors for him, and I don’t think he thought about it like that before.”
And so as his potential has continued to be tapped, in this his only season of senior varsity basketball, the return of the high school game in 2021-22, with its ability to make a difference in even one student-athlete’s life, can not be overstated.
“I always thought I had the potential in me but you don’t always know,” Sherwood explains with a tone of empowered gratitude.
“But coach Bal has made me start thinking… with all of the potential he sees in me,” continues Sherwood, who has not yet heard from any college or university coaches, but is hoping that changes by season’s end.
“He tells me he doesn’t know how high my ceiling could be in basketball and in life.”
The best part of all?
High school basketball has helped Marcell Sherwood decide that he wants to find out the answer to that question for himself.
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