LANGLEY — Prior to this season, the only high school basketball experience Jackson Tonsi could put on his resume was as an eighth grader playing with the junior varsity on his Single-A tier Vancouver Island high school team.
Factor in the additional anonymity factor brought on by the cancelled 2020-21 pandemic season, and perhaps it’s no surprise that the 6-foot-1 Grade 10 guard with the Nanaimo Christian Trail Blazers is our pick as this season’s ‘B.C.’s Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of’.
Tonsi, in fact, has left jaws dropping everywhere he’s played, his voluminous scoring totals quite likely making him the highest-scoring senior varsity player in the province.
“I think I kind of came out of the darkness,” the 15-year-old Tonsi laughed Tuesday after arriving in Langley for the start of the B.C. senior boys championships, where his 43 points-per-game scoring average tells the story of a young student-athlete with a total devotion to the game.
Along with the rest of his Nanaimo Christian teammates, Tonsi will help open the Single-A championships as the No. 8 seed, facing No. 9 Bulkley Valley Christian of Smithers in a 10:15 a.m. contest in the LEC’s Field House complex.
“I have been able to show the work that I have been putting in,” added Tonsi, whose blend of humility and confidence reflect the balance of a driven leader in the making. “And, I got some ‘wows’, that’s for sure.”
In a 95-75 win against host Duncan Christian on Jan. 13, Tonsi scored 61 points. He followed it up a few nights later in a 95-90 loss to Double-A Kwalicum, by pouring home another 59 points, all part of a five-game span in which he averaged a sizzling 51.4 points per game.
“He can beat you off the dribble and get right to the hoop,” begins Trail Blazers’ head coach James Sijpheer. “He can pull up for the mid-range jumper, or if you leave him at the three-point line, he hits that shot, too.”
And maybe the best part of all?
“He loves it if you try and double-team him,” adds the coach. “His two highest scoring games this season where when he was double-teammed most of the game.”
It’s that kind of in-borne competitiveness that has already caught the eyes of the coaching staffs at both Trinity Western and Vancouver Island universities.
“A number of school have reached out, and then it’s ‘Oh, he’s only 15,’” added Sijpheer, noting that Tonsi has grown about four inches since the start of ninth grade. “They’re quite surprised to find out he is actually still that young.”
Couple Tonsi’s game with the 24 points and 22 rebounds of 6-foot-8 Grade 11 Calvin Vanderkooi, and the triple-double potential of Grade 11 point guard Will Johnson, and NCS has the kind of team with the potential to out-perform it’s middle-of-the-pack seeding.
Tonsi’s game has been honed on the 20’ x 15’ basketball court he built back in the eighth grade in the back yard of his Nanaimo home, one which has managed to squeeze in the curve of the top of a three-point arc.
Whether he is getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get into NCS’s gym to put up shots with assistant coach Ben Sijpheer, or building up a sweat in the backyard, Tonsi estimates that he practices between three-to-four hours per day.
“It’s a love of the game and having a dream and then actually putting in the work,” the kid explains, not sounding like a kid. “It’s a craft and I love the craft.”
Working with all of his coaches, including Blazers’ assistant Chris Russell, who runs the Believe Basketball Academy in Nanaimo, Tonsi’s offensive vocabulary has become book-like in its depth.
“I used to be a three-point shooter, but now when I get covered, I take it to the rack,” he explains.
“I finish with Euros, pro hops, spins, floaters, really anything,” the Steph Curry-Ja Morant disciple says. “I try to score in a variety of ways.”
Yet before he is Jackson Tonsi the scorer, he is Jackson Tonsi the teammate.
“He is just a nice kid, and he helps to elevate his teammates, so they actually want to work hard with him,” Sijpheer adds. “They celebrate when he scores that many points because they genuinely like him. It’s never been ‘Oh great, Jackson scored 61 and we didn’t get any points.’ He has the respect of his teammates.”
For his part, Sijpheer has coached a lot of talented players over the past 20-plus years, including during his time in leading Victoria’s Pacific Christian Pacers to a pair of provincial titles.
“But I think the thing that separates Jackson from everyone else is just his work ethic,” Sijpheer says. “He is committed to being better every single possession, every single game, every single practice. So I think he has the opportunity to probably be maybe the best kid I have had the privilege of coaching in terms of what he is going to be doing in the future.”
After this weekend, there are still two more high school seasons for him to keep getting better.
Jackson Tonsi has indeed come out of the darkness, and the ‘wows’ he’s been getting have been well earned.
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