SURREY — Pretend that on one list you’ve got the names of the most proficient scorers in the B.C. high school boys basketball world.
Then pretend that on another, you’ve got the names of the least talked-about stars in that very same realm.
It’s all personal preference, of course, but from this corner, the one name most likely common to both lists belongs to a 6-foot-4 senior guard who, while playing for one of B.C.’s top programs, has for the last two seasons running, been named his team’s Most Improved Player.
“And that’s something that has never been done here before,” begins Holy Cross Crusaders’ head coach Anthony Pezzente when asked about Brent Padilla, sure to be a vital cog when the Quad-A Surrey school plays host to B.C. Catholic School Championships beginning Thursday.
“It’s all a testament to his growth as a basketball player… how much work he’s put into his game and into his body to try and improve,” added Pezzente of the London, Eng.-born Padilla, whose family moved to Surrey in time for him to start Grade 3 in Canada. “We’re not nearly the same team without him.”
That much was very evident last Saturday in the consolation final of the Terry Fox Legal Beagle invitational in Port Coquitlam.
In a tourney in which it opened with a one-point loss to undisputed No. 1 Centennial, the honourable mention Crusaders finished a productive weekend by taking their best shot against then-No. 2-ranked Kelowna in its tournament finale.
Not unexpectedly, the Owls made their big run when Padilla was forced to the bench in foul trouble, yet he gave them their best chance to win by pouring home 24 points of his team-high 29 points in the second half.
This season, he has averaged 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game.
And on a Crusaders’ team filled with seniors, including standout Uyi Ologhola and fixtures like Tee Anim, Ben Levy and T.J. Fujimura, Padilla distinguishes himself as the one who in times of frenetic chaos can bring a welcomed sense of calm.
“We are a team that relies on emotion,” begins Pezzente. “I get worked up and emotional, but Brent is so calm and steady. You can’t tell if he’s playing in the first quarter of some random league game, or in the fourth quarter of the Fraser Valley final and that is a real testament to a 17-year-old kid. He knows he can score when he wants to, and he’s unflappable, which is why he plays so well in big games.”
Like last season, when he hit four triples in a row to reverse the flow of play and lead his team to a 105-93 win over Lord Tweedsmuir in last season’s Fraser Valley semifinals. It was the last game Tweedsmuir lost en route to a B.C. championship title.
“Once I get into the groove of a game, I can usually do more than I think,” says Padilla. “To have that confidence that I can finish and not be scared to miss has been a big thing for me.”
Even bigger, however, has been the path he has taken to the weight room, a path he openly admits has been influenced by his close friend and teammate Ologhola, whose chiseled physique has more than served him well, both on the court and the gridiron.
“I used to watch Uyi, every time he’d make a strong take to the basket, before realizing it was all because of the weight room and how strong he was,” says Padilla. “Uyi’s strength influenced me. It made me realize how much it could help my own finishing ability.”
After just one truly dedicated off-season of work, Padilla went from 180 pounds to 200 pounds this season, and all of that combined with an overall game which is about much more than just three-point shooting, has made himself a next-level talent to watch.
Of course all of these evolving dynamics are precisely why Padilla, for the time being anyways, still plays from a place of relative anonymity.
Yet the beauty of Padilla’s basketball DNA is what Pezzente lovingly refers to as “his old-man game.’”
Always one of the taller kids growing up through his formative basketball years, including in London where his Filipino father steered him towards the game, Padilla quite naturally found himself gravitating closer to the irons, and as a result, took more than a passing interest in the basics of post play.
As he has evolved over the last two-plus senior varsity campaigns within the Holy Cross program, being around players who have used strength to their benefit like Ologhola and McGill freshman Michael Risi, Padilla has become a true inside-out threat.
“It’s the versatility of his offensive game,” says Pezzente. “He can hit from the outside, and he can hit the mid-range pull-up, but he also has great footwork around the rim and his finishing ability is uncanny. He’s smooth, steady and reliable.”
Still need more of a measure of the kid?
He scores in the classroom as well, hitting around 90 per cent with his grades. He celebrates pride for his school through his work with the Crusaders’ athletic media leadership team. And perhaps most telling of all is the time he spends around campus just naturally promoting an inclusive community for all of the students who attend his school, including those with extra challenges in both academic and social settings.
“I take pride in what I do off the court, too,” he explains. “And I like to help people.”
He may not be the most talked-about player in B.C. boys high school basketball, but it seems we’re all agreed in saying that when you watch what Brent Padilla does both on and off the court, his actions speak louder than words.
UPDATE — Heavy snowfall cancelled Wednesday’s opening-round at the B.C. Catholic Schools championships, but action is expected to begin Thursday. Check the Twitter feed @BC_Catholics for the latest game times and tournament updates.
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