Tyler Felt (right) of Spectrum closes off the lay-in attempt of Tamanwis' Seva Virk in Saturday's B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Blair Shier property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2024. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

Boys 4-A final: They came out of nowhere in a hurry! But Spectrum Thunder’s B.C. title win over Tammy bubbled over with ties to its past, brilliant skill and young coach who brought out the best in everyone!

By Howard Tsumura

LANGLEY — There are so many paths to traverse and rivers to cross in the quest of a B.C. senior boys top-tiered high school basketball championship that the journey of virtually every single prior winner is rife with clues… the breadcrumbs have been easy to find.

They are kind of like the staples on a checklist of soon-to-be champions, teams whose resumes might include one or more of: Final Four visits, losses in the final, multiple years of tournament qualification, provincial success at smaller tiers, dominance at the B.C. junior level.

So when you consider all of that, it’s not too hard to suggest that in any argument you care to have, that Saanich’s Spectrum Thunder may well represent the greatest rags-to-richest story in the 78-year history of one of Canada’s most venerable and tradition-laden championship tournaments.

Still, the strangest thing about the Thunder’s 92-72 win over Surrey’s Tamanawis Wildcats in Saturday night’s B.C. Quad-A championship final at a sold-out, standing-room only Arena Bowl at the Langley Events Centre, was that none of this came as a big surprise.

So upper-level steady and blue-chip consistent had No. 2-seeded Spectrum been from Day 1 of the 2023-24 season through Saturday night, that no one really took a second to consider them underdogs.

They were, in fact, that rarest of teams.

So many before them have checked off the boxes of every challenge presented to them in the lead up to the final four days of March Madness, yet wilted within the crucible of pressure that is the very backbone of the B.C. boys tournament.

“It’s remarkable,” admitted West Vancouver head coach and veteran analyst Paul Eberhardt to me during Saturday night’s championship broadcast of the fact that the Thunder, at that point leading No. 4 Tamanawis 36-25 at the half, were 20 minutes away from crossing their figurative bed of hot coals unscathed, despite the fact that the program had not even qualified for provincials since 1999, an occasion in which it failed to place in the top eight.

“People were saying ‘Ah, they are probably going to have some nerves’, but they are as cool as ice, man,” added Eberhardt, whose No. 3-seeded West Vancouver Highlanders had had their own B.C. title aspirations quashed by the Thunder after a 59-52 loss Friday night in the Final Four. “It’s impressive. It’s impressive.”

Yet it’s not about being a one-hit wonder.

It’s a story about a 30-year-old head coach who learned about the game in a place where B.C. high school basketball history is considered sacred stuff.

And also it’s a story of a group of players, who, before their time, embraced that coach as their mentor, in turn opening the door for one of Canada’s greatest-ever head coaches to join their ranks and impart his wisdom as part of a dizzyingly quick ascent to the top of the B.C. boys high school basketball world.

There to close off the lane to basket at the back end of the Spectrum defence is Thunder star Justin Hinrichsen as she slow Satrap Bhanguduring Championship Saturday action in the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Garrett James property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Two years ago, while I was looking for stories to write on the opening day of the 2022 B.C. junior boys basketball championship at the LEC, a buzz had begun too circulate through gymnasiums in use for the massive 32-team event, that a very special player was lighting it up on the court for Spectrum.

“Wow,” I remember saying to myself. “The school with no nickname.”

They had been christened the Thunder, yet this was still a school with zero boys basketball tradition, and when I say zero, I mean zero.

Yet they were purported to have the son of former Carihi and Victoria Vikes star forward Eric Hinrichsen within their ranks.

I got a copy of their scoresheet from their first game, a 68-64 win over Abbotsford’s an MEI Eagles and on that sheet, you see that the young Justin Hinrichsen had not only scored a game-high 38 points, he’d gone a numbing 14-of-15 from the free-throw line.

His dad Eric, in case you didn’t know, has the best career rebounding average among B.C.-born players in U SPORTS (formerly CIAU, CIS) history.

Yet this largely ninth-grade team, a full year younger than the majority of its competition, was doing nothing to suggest they were a mere two seasons away from winning a B.C. senior varsity title in the sport’s largest tier.

Spectrum proceeded to lose it’s next three games, falling 60-52 in the Sweet 16 to basically the same West Vancouver team it would defeat in the Quad-A semifinals two seasons later, then losing 43-36 to largely the same Tamanawis team they would beat in Saturday’s final.

They wrapped things up with a 60-52 loss to the venerable title-contending Kelowna Owls.

Eberhardt remembers West Vancouver’s game against Spectrum that season at provincials.

“I saw these guys play at the junior B.C.’s against my guys when (forward Tyler) Felt and Hinrichsen were in Grade 9 and our guys were in Grade 10, and you could see they were getting something going,” said Eberhardt on Saturday’s title game broadcast, noting its two bedrock players.

Showing the emotion that comes with playing in the biggest game of his life is Spectrum guard J Elijah Helman during Championship Saturday action at the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Wilson Wong property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)

Yet even in their first senior varsity season in 2022-23 under head coach Tyler Verde, as they welcomed the third member of what would be their defining power trio, they gave little indication that they were perched on the cusp of making the quantum leap they showed this year.

“When I came in they took me in like family,” explained scoring guard J Elijah Helman, who transferred to the school prior to the start of what would be a championship campaign, from Victoria’s Claremont Secondary. “And that was after I had eliminated them two years in a row at the Islands with Claremont. I eliminated them twice, and they took me in.”

Indeed, go back to March of last season and the Thunder were being sent home for the spring, one win shy of provincial tourney qualification, after falling 75-67 to Helman and the Spartans in the Vancouver Island challenge game for the zone’s second-and-final berth to the LEC.

Think back to that checklist of champions we referenced earlier and then consider that before setting down Prince George 89-56 on Wednesday, Burnaby South 86-66 on Thursday, West Vancouver 59-52 on Friday and finally Tamanawis by the aforementioned score of 92-72 on Saturday, Spectrum’s only win in the two-year run up to the senior B.C.’s and the Quad-A title was an opening-round victory at junior provincials in 2022.

It’s the true definition of coming out of nowhere.

So how did they do it?

“Hard work, man,” Verde said in the moments after the Thunder had completed the net-cutting ceremony late Saturday evening on the Langley Event Centre’s Arena Bowl court.

“And it’s on all of them,” he said of his players, including Felt, who was selected the tournament Most Valuable Player, Hinrichsen and Helman who were picked first team all-stars, and under-rated guard Gio De Gracia who was picked the title tilt’s Player of the Game. “But it’s on all of them. I opened the gym and organized some stuff, but they put in the time. We compete, and we work hard every day in practice.”

If that’s what you expected to hear, you’re not wrong.

In this case, however, it’s all about the storyline developing underneath what you might call humble, generic coach-speak.

And that is the best part of all.

Spectrum head coach Tyler Verde, chatting with guard J Elijah Helman as the Thunder faced Tamanawis in Saturday’s B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Blair Shier property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Back in early January, as Verde and I spoke following his team’s impressive run to the championship title at the Rich Goulet Chancellor Memorial tournament at Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate, the coach casually mentioned to me that a very special former coach, with whom he is connected with through the grand tradition of our game, had been coming out on a pretty regular basis to instil some of the philosophies that still make him a Canadian coaching treasure.

We’re speaking, of course, of Ken Shields, OC.

I will say here and now, that the plethora of stories I have written which mention the  former Canadian National Team and Victoria Vikings head coach Shields the past two weeks have been absolutely coincidental.

But as I tap the keys here today, I have also come to believe… absolutely magical.

It is in, fact, why I always talk about the power of hoops karma and the basketball gods above. 

I had already planned to re-issue my 1991 story on Ken Shields, the man who led Victoria to seven straight national titles and was a four-time CIAU Coach of the Year award winner, on the occasion the 60th anniversary of the Prince Rupert Rainmakers 1964 title winning team on which he played, when I lost my good friend Guy MacPherson to cancer.

Shields was also a friend of MacPherson, who was a former Vikes play-by-play man in the 1980s, and thus I quoted Shields as part of my tribute to Guy published here on March 5.

Then, as chance would have it, I discovered on the opening day of the championships that Verde himself was a former Prince Rupert Rainmaker, taking part in his cap-and-gown ceremony in 2011, some 47 years after Shields.

By the time Saturday night had rolled around and the Thunder were hoisting trophies left, right and centre, I finally found the team’s 30-year-old head coach and asked him what Shields was able to impart upon his largely Grade 11 team.

Tyler Felt (left) of Spectrum is pursued by Tamanawis’ Gursewak Mann during Championship Saturday action at the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Wilson Wong property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)

“First I want to give a shout-out to my own (high school) coach Mel Bishop,” said Verde of the Shields disciple and Basketball B.C. Hall of Fame inductee. “Mel taught me man-to-man defence right from the start and he called me this morning. To hear from Mel and then to see on my watch that Ken tonight has already texted me tonight… having Ken in my corner, being from Rupert, that connection is special.”

What did Shields bring?

Specifically, defence.

“His thing was we have quick guards and we have athletic forwards that can play on the perimeter and we just want to keep guys in front of us,” said Verde. “Perfect, sound defence without fouling. We probably didn’t live up to Ken’s expectations but it makes us try to and it obviously worked and I can’t thank him enough.”

Neither could the players.

“He sent us a video before our West Van game, saying to us that we just needed to stay composed, have fun, and to go win the championship,” said the 6-foot-8 Felt, whose MVP selection was well-deserved following a game in which he not only dominated defensively as the last line of defence with four blocks and perhaps three times as many altered shots, but also suppled a game-high 26 points on eight-of-10 shooting, with 12 rebounds, four assists and a steal. “Defence was the main component of us winning this championship and in the second half, once we started hitting shots, that’s when we really started rolling and we started to push it.”

Hinrichsen, as well, paid kudos with a direct message to Shields.

“Thank you for putting in the time with us and coming to the gym every day,” he said, after not only scoring 20 points, but dishing five assists, making three steals and keying the break back up the floor with 15 of his game-high 16 rebounds coming off defensive glass. 

“He pushed us every day in defence when he worked with us,” added Hinrichsen. “He’s so basketball smart.. so many tips.”

“It was our goal to be the best defensive team in the province and it might have worked out,” he smiled.

None of any of this was lost on Verde, who said it was an absolute point of pride for him that his players “have gotten to know Coach Shields.

“He’d come to practice, and he’s come into the locker room and the boys were stoked. They know he’s Ken Shields. It means something to them and they wanted to work hard for him.”

Tamanwis coach Mike McKayduring Championship Saturday action in the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Garrett James property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Mike McKay is perhaps the winningest coach in B.C. high school basketball over the last near-decade that no one talks about.

Or perhaps it’s simply the fact that the head coach of the Tamanawis Wildcats was away from his usual spot on the team’s bench the past four seasons.

This season, the same stoic figure who led Tammy to B.C. Quad-A Final Fours in 2014, 2016 and 2018 returned to the ’Cats hot seat, and wouldn’t you know it: Not only a fourth trip to the Final Four, but his second berth in the title game following an 87-72 loss in 2016 to the Kelowna Owls.

Playing a heavily U.S.-based schedule early on and building cohesion into a group which was playing its best basketball late in the season, the Wildcats’ and their aggressive 2-3 zone defence were hitting on all cylinders.

Yet coming off Friday’s thrilling overtime win over No. 1-seeded Oak Bay of Victoria in the semifinals, Tamanawis, according to McKay, yielded too much ground over a first half in which the door was being left open for either team to write the game’s signature moments.

“It’s tough to win a game when we hold them to 1-of 14 from three in the first half, but the stuff we practice all year about our back-side rebounding and dropping down and switching, we just completely forgot,” said McKay, whose team trailed 36-25 at half and never fully recovered the rest of the way after surrendering 10 offensive rebounds over the first 20 minutes. “And I think they scored on pretty much every one of those offensive rebound put-backs.”

Based on the way Spectrum mounted 9-0 and 7-2 runs in the third quarter, thus finding an ideal synch between its offensive and defensive games, those key early moments indeed proved critically important.

“If you told me were holding that team to 1-of-14 from three in the first half, I would think we’re up 10 at the half instead of being down 11 or whatever it was,” McKay added. “Four or five big mental lapses really changed that game and so then it came down to the last 13 minutes or so of us trying to press a bit. In a game against a team that is that good and that well coached, you just can’t have as many of those mental lapses.”

The Thunder did provide some drama, however, when Hinrichsen picked up his fourth foul of the game with 8:53 remaining and his team leading 67-47.

The Wildcats got quick, back to-back threes from Michael Adarlwah-Nati and Sartaj Bhangu to make it 67-53, and just mere seconds after Hinrichsen subbed back into the contest and could get settled, Arjun Hehar dropped a triple of his own, capping a 9-0 run with Spectrum’s star guard, for all intents purpose, not on the floor.

Hinrichsen stood up after each of the first two made three-pointers and looked in the direction of Verde. His itching to get back into the game and Verde’s decision to bring him back after less than two minutes on the pine clearly owed to the point that the Thunder needed him back to anchor the team’s effort to get the ball back up court in the face of a desperate Wildcats’ team which had put on an aggressive and deep zone press.

In fact, with Hinirchsen back and playing disciplined despite those four fouls, the Thunder broke that pressure with enough consistency to go on a 14-0 run capped by a Felt jump shot with 3:13 remaining to give the eventual champions their largest lead of the night at 85-59.

Spectrum guard Gio de Gracia (left) tries to stop Tamanawis’ lightning-quick Michael Adarwal-Nati during Championship Saturday action at the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Wilson Wong property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)

Eberhardt took his hat off during the broadcast in tribute to the way the Shields-influenced defence got the job done.

“One of the things they like to do is funnel everything to Felt, usually down the middle,” said Eberhardt. “They want to funnel in to him so that he will be there to challenge them. Now, when the guy rotates to challenge the shot, then you are giving up dishes, but those other players understand how to rotate, too. So when Felt comes, they are all filling in for him. And they box out really well after it. That’s a tough skill to teach your team but they seem to do it quite naturally. It was quite impressive.”

And that part can’t be understated.

While Felt, Hinrichsen and Helman who had 19 points on Saturday, are all wheelhouse offensive threats this season, guards Gio De Gracia, CJ Zuno, and Justin Le, as well as seldom-used Cadel Jenkins all played big roles.

Zuno came off the bench and the compact guard scored all 19 of the Thunder’s points off the pine, including 13 in the second half.

De Gracia had eight points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, prompting Verde to say “Gio played the game of his life. I shouted him out (Friday) as the best perimeter defender in the province and he killed it today.”

And Jenkins, who came in cold when Hinrichsen was forced to sit, had key block, a box-out and drew a foul.

“We only played six or seven guys here, but kudos to everyone else,” Verde said of the players who didn’t get on the floor. “We talk about it every day in practice, that it’s making them better for next year because you are playing against some of the best players in the the province every day.”

Adarlwah-Nati and Bhangu each scored 17 points to lead the Wildcats while Hehar added 11.

Spectrum head coach Tyler Verde meets Cadel Jenkins with positivity after the reserve put in key minutes for the Thunder during Championship Saturday action at the B.C. Quad-A championship final March 9, 2024 at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Garrett James property of Langley Events Centre 2024. All Rights Reserved)


The last two championships finals of the day were played, for a second straight year, before what looked to be an overflowing sell-out crowd at the LEC, the surest sign yet as to just how much an ever-growing fan base loves B.C. high school basketball. And the great fan numbers were there throughout the day, and that was especially encouraging based on the fact that there was a team from the Vancouver Island zone in all four finals (1A runners-up Gidgaland Kuuyas Naay Breakers of Haida Gwaii, 2-A runners-up Brentwood College, 3A- winners Dover Bay Dolphins of Nanaimo).

And in the end, as the curtain was pulled shut on another season of B.C. senior boys high school basketball, a sport which values its history and its tradition was winning again.

From one generation to the next, with shades of separation that may seem random but are almost guaranteed because of the tightness of our community, there was that moment when the winning coach got to that place where everything important about leading a team and honouring those who have come before him, made for  a heart-stopping intersection… that place where the words eventually come, jumbled by the enormity of what winning the last game of your season in the month of March really means.

And for Tyler Verde, a chemistry, math, science and PE teacher art Spectrum, who has been head coaching at the school since he was a 23-year-old in 2018, the moment meant an awful lot.

“I talked with my dad (Mino Verde, a Prince Rupert grad who played for briefly Bishop in his senior year on the 1988-89 team) about this all the time,” Verde said, fighting back his tears. “It makes me emotional. It’s just cool that (Ken Shields and I) are from the same town and we’re Rainmakers. And now that’s translated into Thunder. It works, you know. It fits.”

This is where the true B.C. high school basketball lover inhales deep and says “…like a glove.” 

If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at howardtsumura@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “Boys 4-A final: They came out of nowhere in a hurry! But Spectrum Thunder’s B.C. title win over Tammy bubbled over with ties to its past, brilliant skill and young coach who brought out the best in everyone!

  1. Thank you for your in-depth analysis of the tournament. Since I didn’t want to be livestreaming over the week-end your updates were both handy and enlightening. Had a chance to watch Spectrum this year and was duly impressed with their defensive discipline and off-ball stuff.

  2. Greetings Howard.
    Thank you for your coverage of the High School basketball tournaments at the LEC. You and you team did great work at these events. I enjoy all of the articles posted.
    Please, keep up your good work.
    It was an awesome experience in the Arena Bowl for Champioship Saturday.
    My wife and I have attended since 2015.
    It is the highlight of the sporting calendar for us.
    Again, thanks to you and your team for all your efforts at these events.
    Greatly appreciated

    Gord & Shelley Turner

  3. Congrats to Tyler Verde and the Thunder. I’m from Terrace and was coached by Mel Bishop a number of times over the years and am well aware of the great basketball traditions they have there. Amazing to see you guys win the 4A’s.

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