LANGLEY — An esteemed caretaker of small-school B.C. boys basketball answered a curious reporter’s question on Saturday just moments before Chilliwack’s Unity Christian Flames took to the court at the Langley Events Centre.
Just how does the 2021-22 edition of the Unity Christian Flames stack up against some of the best the province has seen at its tier?
“They have been the best team I have seen in Single-A basketball in the last 20 years,” remarked Jonathan Kinman, the boys head coach at Vancouver’s St. John’s School and the veteran analyst on tier’s championship broadcast each year.
High praise indeed, and, after watching the Flames become the first repeat champions in a decade following its 89-71 win over Victoria’s Glenlyon Norfolk Gryphons in the provincial title game, that was a hard one to debate.
With size, speed, depth, skill and tenacity, the Flames recovered from a slow start and a 10-point deficit to build a lead of as many as 26 points against the talented Gryphons, and when they broke the dam, it came courtesy of a 23-4 run to the half.
“That’s high praise and I am am going to hold Jon to it,” smiled Unity Christian head coach David Bron as he prepared to climb a ladder at one end of the court to cut down the net. “He has been around a lot longer than I have, and if he says that…”
The Flames’ have a simple, three-pronged team motto to “…play fast, treat the ball like gold, and play gutsy defence.”
And that is just what they brought to the LEC this week, their 18-point margin of victory Saturday the closest anyone came to them all week.
And although so many players have stepped up for Unity throughout a season in which they held their own against B.C.’s three larger tiers of competition, it was Grade 12 guard Levi Van Egdom who took over the game Saturday, his game-high 35 points coming from virtually every part of the court, most notably inside on tough, aggressive drives into the heart of the Gryphons’ defence.
“Our coaches have always had faith in us,” admitted Van Egdom, who remembers himself covered in the team’s orange-hued body paint and cheering alongside the rest of his Grade 10 classmates when the Flames last won here in 2020.
“They told us that we were going to be the next team competing for the provincial championships.”
Afterwards, when asked how tough it was for Unity Christian to repeat as champs, given that it hadn’t happened since Kelowna Christian turned the trick in 2011 and ’12, Bron admitted that the cancelled 2020-21 campaign actually allowed his team to re-stock its talent and build for this season.
“We had a lot of things go our way,” said Bron. “We wouldn’t have repeated (in 2021). That was Fernie’s year. They were going to be heavy favourites. But we have three good club programs out here, our boys bought in, and they grinded it out for a year. They put in their work.”
Part of that included a player-led initiative which allowed them to get into the gym for those early-morning practice sessions.
“We couldn’t get supervision for morning shoots so Levi and (guard) Seth (Schuurman) organized parents and teachers to come in early, just so the team could shoot,” Bron said.
Whatever edge he could help his team find, Van Egdom was willing to do it.
And on Saturday, as Bron looked out at the soon-to-be MVP, the body language he saw at the team’s lowest ebb had him convinced nothing had yet been lost.
“Even when we were down by (10), he kept his head in it,” the coach said of Van Egdom. “He was there to play.”
The meeting was the second of the season between the two teams.
As part of its 23-4 season (16-0 vs. Single-A competition), the Flames beat Glenlyon Norfolk earlier in the season by a 95-87 score.
On Saturday, Unity never let the Gryphons put a run together.
Schurmaan had 15 points and eight rebounds, Jay Smeins 13 points, and point guard Asher Toth another 10.
The depth of the Flames, however, was the key and they continued to rotate fresh talent throughout the game.
“We have a few big bodies so we are able to deal with size,” added Bron of a group led by 6-foot-7 Trinity Western volleyball recruit Evan Bowman. “And we had a lot of guys that were putting in work so we had guards that we could just roll.”
The Gryphons were led by the 21 points of guard Callum Shillington. Bruising forward Mason Carlson added 17, while fellow forward Jacob Hier had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
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