Hoops karma is hard to actually describe, but in the early days of February, all you need to do is look at the B.C. senior boys basketball rankings to know that the 2023 Vancouver Island brand is as richly flavourful as anything you’re choosing to spread across your morning toast.
From Victoria to Mill Bay to Nanaimo with a few significant stops in between, you’ll find teams at all four tiers capable of hoisting some golden hardware come March 11’s Championship Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
In the provincial capital, the Quad-A No. 2-ranked Oak Bay Bays have proven they are one of the teams with a chance to do it all.
Just north of Victoria, in Mill Bay, Brentwood College is positioned with similar promise as Double-A No. 1.
And about an hour’s drive further north of there, we arrive in the Hub City of Nanaimo for today’s story, where some 16 seasons after copping its first-and-only B.C. title, the Dover Bay Dolphins are demanding attention as Triple-A’s No. 2-ranked team, preparing for the playoffs after coming off of a 28-6 season.
And as Dolphins’ head coach Darren Seaman pauses to consider how the regular-season portion of this season’s schedule has carried Dover Bay to perhaps its most anticipated post-season in a full decade-and-a-half, it’s impossible not to talk about the program’s championship banner which holds a proud and prominent place on a wall within the school’s gymnasium.
“The banner is up there,” acknowledges Seaman, a Port Hardy native who, like his players, has come to appreciate more each season the remarkable title-run that the 2006-07 team — coached by the legendary Mark Simpson — made en route to winning what was then the top-tiered Triple-A title at the old PNE Agrodome, capped by a heart-stopping 58-57 win over Vancouver’s Kitsilano Blue Demons.
“Mark Simpson comes by, and he watched our game last night,” Seaman said, acknowledging the stitches of tradition in place as the Dolphins topped Victoria’s St. Michaels University School Blue Demons 84-55 this past Monday.
“And so was Matt Kuzminski,” Seaman added of the former Dover Bay star, who after playing at both Victoria and Simon Fraser, has brought a CCAA gold standard to the city’s own Vancouver Island Mariners as its longtime head coach.
“As a program, we’re trying to build that culture back up and just get that whole feeling back,” continued Seaman whose team has certainly not been unbeatable this season, but who have shown a collective diligence to perform more and more like the one which, en route to its signature win at the Victoria Vikes CARSA invitational in late December, beat Oak Bay in the semifinals 75-74.
The Dolphins later dropped a 108-96 decision to Vancouver College in the final.
Oak Bay is ranked No. 2 and Vancouver College No. 3 in the latest B.C. Quad-A Top 10. Dover Bay’s win over the Victoria’s Bays was its first since 2011. Coincidentally, current Oak Bay head coach Chris Franklin was Simpson’s assistant coach at Dover Bay in 2006-07.
“With than banner up there, we always talk about the process and what it took to get it on the wall,” continued Seaman. “We talk about what those guys were made of, and I think I would say that this year’s group… we can be the ones who are the flagship going forward that sets a new standard. Hopefully we can build on it.”
Yet 2006-07 also happens to be among the most special seasons ever in the history of Vancouver Island senior boys basketball. In those days, as a three-tiered province, Victoria’s Glenlyon-Norfolk Gryphons won the Single A title, while the Ladysmith 49ers won the Double-A title to complete the rare trifecta.
Which brings us back to all that talk about hoops karma.
Jog the old grey cells a bit, and your author doesn’t have too hard a time referencing the traits of that 2006-07 group, one which this season’s Dolphins have surely discovered was a team with an unfailing work ethic… and just unflappable enough to come back from 19 points down to stun Vancouver College 72-67 in its provincial semifinal, then have the wherewithal to come back one night later and eek out a one-point win over Kitsilano.
That part alone quite rightly sets the 2007 team apart, yet you’d be surprised at just how many other similarities there are between that team and the current one.
To start, the heart of each team includes star siblings.
Back in 2006-07, it was the brother duo of starters Greg and Torrey Gillies, both seniors, who along with the likes of 6-foot-6 post and B.C. tourney MVP Pat McCarthy, formed a huge part of the team’s core.
This season, it’s been the Brothers Linder helping carry the torch for Dover Bay.
The 6-foot-4 senior guard Luke Linder, who has recently committed to stay home next season and play for Kuzminski at Vancouver Island University, has averaged 21 points per game.
His Grade 10 brother, the 6-foot-6 point guard Frank Linder, has stepped nicely into the senior varsity realm, this season averaging 15 ppg.
There is also some true size inside with 6-foot-9, 210-pound senior Jack Benjamin.
“He kind of plays that old-school style, that back-to-the-basket post-up style that old guys like us, we grey-haired guys, really like,” laughs Seaman.
Oyama Crouch, a 6-foot-4 Grade 11 brings a swingman’s versatility to the proceedings, putting his ability to shoot the three and attack the rim to good use, and in the process helping create space on the floor, which was a key part of Greg Gillies skill set back in the day.
Seniors Matthew Cote and Callum Walker bring team-leading rebounding and depth at the two-spot respectively.
Grade 11 Tarman Sandu has emerged as a clutch shooter, while 6-foot-5 Grade 10 Hudson Trood is the team’s potential wildcard based on the combination of his hunger for loose balls and the indefatigable motor he brings to the paint.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, however, there is that bond which comes with teams who have played together, for the most part, since their elementary school days.
“When we saw what we had in the current Grade 12s when they were in Grade 8, there was a lot of excitement,” says Seaman of the current pod of Dolphins. “This has been a project.”
That’s not too far off from what Greg Gillies told me back in my days at The (Vancouver) Province, when I interviewed him mere moments after the Dolphins had won their first B.C. title.
“I have been with most of these guys since Grade 6 or 7,” he told me almost 16 years ago.
“I don’t even know how to explain this. We came back from 19 down to win against Van College (in the semifinals),” added Gillies, a tournament first-team all-star who had scored 25 points against the Irish. “So this was our turn and we knew it. Our confidence didn’t break at any time.”
If you’re a Dover Bay Dolphin, right about now the hair on the back of your neck is probably standing on end.
But the best part of it all?
It’s when any kid who has worked hard and who has dared to dream gets that chance to say “I don’t know how to explain this,” and “This was our turn and we knew it.”
So to players around the province, carry that karma into your practices, inspire your teammates and most of all, embrace everything that makes this time of the year so uniquely special… if you do, then 16 years later, it’ll all still seem like yesterday.
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