No. 11 ST. THOMAS MORE 66 No. 7 BROOKSWOOD 49
LANGLEY — In the moments after victory, Corbin Castres said it as simply as he could.
“There’s no words to describe what it feels like to represent our school,” the St. Thomas More Knights’ head coach said Monday night after leading his team past Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats 66-49 and into its first B.C. junior boys championship final since winning it all back in 1988.
“I played for one of the players on that team,” he said of Darren McCormick, who was part of that Knights’ team, one which precisely 35 years ago, beat Maple Ridge for its first and still only B.C. junior title.
Fittingly, McCormick later coached STM’s Grade 8 team, which included Castres, all the way to the B.C. final where they would eventually fall to St. George’s.
Now, Castres is paying it forward, leading St. Thomas More into the 2023 junior boys final against the No. 1-seeded Tamanawis Wildcats of Surrey on Tuesday (7 p.m., TFSETV.ca) at the Langley Events Centre, following a masterful and gutsy performance by his charges over the dynamic Bobcats and its superstar player Logan Stewart.
And although these Knights once again continued to show their incredible ability to morph, on a nightly basis, into the kind of team which can take away the strengths of any number of different styles of play, nothing about the win was easy.
Castres, however, looked at it as just another opportunity to grow the character and the courage of his bunch which, as a No. 11 seed, has nonetheless beaten No. 3 (Burnaby South), No. 6 (Rick Hansen) and No. 7 (Brookswood), making it the dog that could three games in a row.
“They are a group with a lot of high IQ, the play a lot of hoops and they just know, man,” Castres said of his charges, who after a 5-0 run to open the fourth quarter, built their largest lead of the game at 57-33, despite having two key starters — forward Jacob Oreta and centre Zeeshan Solanki — sitting with four fouls apiece.
“They’re moldable, they listen, and the most important thing is they just want to get after it on defence. When we ran into foul trouble it showed that we trust our guys. We trust our bench. They go after our starters every day in practice, and this was why. It showed.”
The performances of guard Shane Deza and 6-foot-1 forward Zeru Abera.
Abera, who might be undersized against true industrial-sized length, compensates through wingspan, instinctive positioning and pure guts.
“He is a hard working kid who is always asking me questions,” said Castres who watched Abera score 11 of his 17 points in the second half. “We have full trust in him. He’s grown into being a ring leader for us.”
And then there’s Deza, an inside-outside threat so reliable that he is like the hardcourt quarterback equally adept at the run and the pass.
“Last year he was more relegated to a shooting role but this year he has grown so much as a scorer, and man that tear-drop of his is absolute money,” said Castres.
Indeed, he is that player who can seemingly dribble through the raindrops without getting wet, and find a moment in time to release said tear-drop floater off his hip.
That and a three-ball that he sunk four times Monday helped him score a team-high 22 points.
And then there was the defensive tone-setter, guard Isaac Jimenez, diminutive at 5-foot-7, but deadly with three first-quarter threes and 12 points on the game.
Brookswood’s amazing run finally came to an end on the championship side of the draw, yet even in a game where its offence was never allowed to breathe, it was impossible to miss the excellence of Brookswood’s 6-foot-4 Logan Stewart, who still found a way to score a game-high 32 points.
Now, faced the task of preparing for a Tammy team led by another wunderkind, this time the 6-foot-4 Tray Belanger, maybe Castres will do what all good coaches do on the night before a big game… reach out for help from those who have been instrumental in their journey.
For Castres, perhaps that will include his own high school coach, current Knights senior varsity boss Aaron Mitchell.
“I have been coaching with him for almost 10 years now,” said Castres who also produces the wildly popular ‘A Hoops Journey’ podcast which Mitchell hosts.
“What a mentor, what a friend,” he continued. “He’s someone I can bounce ideas off of at any time of the day. His guidance and leadership ever since I was a player for him means a lot to me.”
And that is the story behind the story of why a win as big as one of the B.C. semifinal variety is actually even bigger than you could ever imagine.
So, safe in the knowledge that both teams will prepare for each other with everything thing they have got to give, we will say good night here, putting Tuesday’s championship in the hands of the basketball gods.
(Tamanawis vs. Heritage Woods game report follows Tuesday)
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