NORTH VANCOUVER — As he watched the shot defy all kinds of logic and physics to somehow find its way through the bottom of the basket, Cassidy Kannemeyer just knew his senior forward was in for a big night.
“It was one of those ‘shrug’ moments,” laughed Denver Sparks-Guest, the guy who hit the shot. “Coach and I were just talking about it again last night. I took the shot, it went off the front of the rim, hit the top of the backboard, bounced off the other side of the rim, hit the backboard again, then trickled in. When that happens you shrug and you say ‘Cool.’”
You also say ‘Wow.’
Last Saturday, in a true shoot-out affair in Kelowna against the expansion Okanagan College Coyotes (2-4), the well-traveled, 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior forward Sparks-Guest poured home a career-high 53 points on 20-of-29 shooting, a voluminous total that also included a 10-for-10 effort from the charity stripe, as well as seven rebounds, all helping power the Blues (5-1) to a 126-117 win.
The 53 points not only set a modern-day Capilano University men’s single game scoring record that extends back 34 years, it sits as the second-highest ever in combined BCCAA-PacWest history. With the explosion, Sparks-Guest also moved into fifth place in PacWest scoring at 21.2 ppg.
“He started out by hitting his first six shots, but when he hit that fifth one, you just knew he was going to have some ball luck,” laughed Kannemeyer.
The victory kept the Blues on pace with Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Mariners for top spot in the conference, but just as importantly, solidified a belief in the entire Cap men’s program that chasing a CCAA national title was all the more real when a special fifth-year talent was being allowed to prosper in the all ways that made him one of the most highly-regarded high school players in the province when he graduated from Coquitlam’s Gleneagle Secondary in 2014.
“Every night this season, he’s gotten those touches, and he’a made the right play,” adds Kannemeyer of reading the double teams and finding cutters. “But on Saturday, they left him one-on-one. Nothing came out of the flow of play. Nothing was forced. He was able to play in his office.”
Ask Sparks-Guest where that so-called ‘office’ is and he’s talking about prime real estate, that 10-to-17-foot area from the high post to the short corners.
“When you catch the ball in the office, it’s basically the weak spot of the defence,” says Sparks-Guest. “They either collapse on you, or you use your speed and size to rise and shoot a fading jumper, or find teammates for open shots. For me, this is the way basketball is supposed to be played.”
Kind of like he did in high school at Gleneagle, where head coach Tony Scott played it old-school with a team that would feature four soon-to-be collegians in forward Grant Galbraith (Langara), guard Tarik Scott (Brandon), as well as Sparks-Guest and his former high school teammate, guard Brenden Bailey, at Cap.
Sparks-Guest was never able to find his rhythm during his first collegiate stop, somewhat miscast as a three-point shooter on an ultra-high tempo Simon Fraser Clan team in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
In 2016-17, he never found his fit and stayed just one U Sports season with the Fraser Valley Cascades.
Yet because he was a transfer from the NCAA to U Sports to the CCAA, Sparks-Guest, 22, was never required to sit out as a red-shirt.
After finding his groove again as a first year Cap player in 2017-18, he has in many ways come full circle in this, his collegiate swan song.
And perhaps no one else can appreciate that journey more than Kannemeyer himself.
And that’s because in the summer of 2012, in-between his Grade 10 and 11 years at Gleneagle, Sparks-Guest was coached on the B.C. Under-16 team by former UBC superstar guard Casey Archibald and Kannemeyer.
“He was clearly the best interior scorer with size in that age group,” Kannemeyer remembers of his high school days, “so we thought we could use him as a stretch-four and that he would have success beating bigger, slower guys and use his strength as a rebounder. Denver was an early developer, and he could play tough on the interior, but also take guards off the dribble. I always thought of him as a combo stretch-four/guard vis a vis Carmelo Anthony.”
Yes, he’s been something of a roundball vagabond, wearing his third jersey in five seasons.
But after a start at Simon Fraser where the mix just wasn’t right, he’s finally able to become the best basketball version of himself.
“The style that we played (at SFU)… I always felt a little bit behind, never fully able to show my true game,” he says. “I felt hidden, so this feels good to be able to go out there and play with a lot of confidence.”
And of course, what senior doesn’t want to go out on top with a national championship?
“I think about that every single day,” says Sparks-Guest, who would love to play pro ball in the future, following his graduation this summer with a communications degree. “This is my last kick at the can, and I’ve never won a ring in my career. Getting the points and the accolades, it’s really nice, but my main focus is to win a national championship.”
The basketball gods could not have planned it any better.
Cap’s PacWest rivals, the Langara Falcons, will host the CCAA national championship tournament March 13-16 at the Langley Events Centre. Meanwhile, Capilano men’s basketball is already on winter break, and will resume PacWest play hosting Douglas College in a two-game set Jan. 4-5. The pivotal month of January continues with a pair of games at Vancouver Island (Jan. 11-12) followed by a two-game set against visiting Langara (Jan. 25-26).
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