ABBOTSFORD — Steve Twele has surveyed the landscape, and the head coach of Abbotsford’s defending B.C. Triple A champion Rick Hansen Hurricanes is confident that you can throw predictability out the window from here until the end of the Fraser Valley senior boys basketball championships on March 2.
The No. 4 North Delta Huskies, his own No. 6 ‘Canes, Chilliwack’s No. 8 G.W. Graham Grizzlies, Surrey’s No. 10 Clayton Heights Night Riders, Abbotsford’s honourable mention MEI Eagles and the unranked Pitt Meadows Marauders? Check out all the scores this season and you’ll discover they’re a pack full of parity.
In fact over a stretch of five days in which his team skyrocketed up the ranking charts following wins over both No. 1 Byrne Creek and No. 2 Argyle to place first at Byrne Creek’s own Bulldog invitational, but then lost earlier this week in league play to Pitt, all bets are off.
“I think any of those six teams have the ability to beat each other on a given night,” said Twele on Thursday morning, just prior to his team’s 104-95 win over Richmond’s McNair Marlins in the opening round of Robert Bateman’s 16-team Timberwolves Classic. “What I keep stressing to our guys is that it’s about who has the mental toughness to play for the full 40 minutes.
“And honestly, you could say that about the entire (AAA) Top 10,” he continued. “We are not afraid of any of those teams, but we also understand that any one of those teams could beat another. We don’t have one stand-out, unbeatable team.”
The Bateman tournament, which wraps up its three-day run Saturday with an 8:30 p.m. championship final, is so well-timed, bringing together the tier’s true elite just ahead of its most concentrated stretch of league games.
And while the success of many of this year’s favourites, like South Kamloops, Byrne Creek, North Delta and Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Tigers could at some level be expected through either their class of returning varsity players, or the success of their 2016-17 junior varsity teams, such is not the case for the Hurricanes.
Twele’s team, which won an epic clash over South Kam in last season’s B.C. final, was gutted by graduation. Eleven seniors, including reigning B.C. MVP Josh Dhillon all departed.
As well, Hansen’s JV team did not qualify for the junior provincials from a Fraser Valley zone which wound up with seven berths, and qualified two more through at-large spots.
So you could say the cupboard was bare, yet here they are again, putting themselves right in the thick of contention when it’s starting to matter most.
Last season’s roster contained just four underclassmen, three of them Grade 10s, and in the spirit of efficiency, all four — Grade 12 Gurlal Mann, and Grade 11s Gurkaran Mangat, Gautum Dhaliwal and Harjot Dhaliwal — are part of the starting lineup, which has been completed by senior transfer Harjas Dhillon, a noted three-point shooter.
“We are very young and our record reflects that,” admitted Twele. “We’ve lost some games that we shouldn’t have, but we have played a very tough schedule and the main thing is that we are working hard in the classroom to understand how to prepare for games, how to be mentally tough.”
Mangat has become a driving force on the team as a 6-foot-3 forward, and Twele did some off-season tweaking of his backcourt, enrolling starting point guard Mann, along with both Dhaliwals at the University of Washington’s acclaimed Point Guard College over the summer.
“It’s a week-long residential camp and they do a lot of the same things we’ve done in terms of the classroom and the gym, three times a day for a week,” said Twele of the camp’s 40 demanding hours.
On their way to winning the B.C. AAA title last season, there seems little doubt few B.C. high school coaches have placed as much importance on off-court mental preparation as Twele’s Hurricanes.
Last season’s team was night-and-day deeper in terms of its experience, but the way Hansen’s current squad made its late-season run past the tier’s No. 1 and 2 ranked teams this past weekend was an eye-opening moment, and lends credence to the impact of good coaching on a very inexperienced group of senior varsity players.
“I think there was a bigger learning curve heading into this year, but I also think that as much as you hate to lose, losing at times can teach you more lessons and hopefully we’ve learned a lot and we’re ready to start putting things together,” said Twele.
Handling Argyle’s physical press was one sign, as was maintaining poise down the stretch drive of the tourney final against Byrne Creek when starting point guard Mann fouled out with nine minutes remaining.
Of course, against a very good Pitt Meadows team, the Hurricanes were unable to play the way they wanted to against the Marauders’ skilled front-court players.
“Pitt has some good bigs and they were effective,” said Twele. “We have to learn some lessons there. We’re trying to put the right stuff in place, the right mentality of how to approach a game, how to give respect but at the same time not give anything to a team.”
As they like to say when that finish line comes into view ‘It’s on,’” and if you’re a believer in the power of good coaching and team buy-in, then the defending champs are most certainly one of those teams to watch on the road to March Madness.
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