LANGLEY — It’s late fourth quarter, his team is down by nine points to the arch-rival Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers, and Brookswood Bobcats coach Neil Brown, in the midst of a desperation time-out, casts an eye towards his Grade 10 rookie.
“I looked at her,” Brown says of first-year senior varsity point guard Jenna Dick, “and I told her ‘If I had to pick one kid to take a shot to save my life, I would pick you.’”
No pressure, right?
“She says ‘OK,’” continues Brown, “and then she goes out there and she hits four threes and there’s like an 11-point swing in two minutes.”
Brookswood won that game, one of four this season against Surrey’s Panthers. However Lord Tweedsmuir was able to win the last meeting, and to no one’s surprise, the pair are the two teams to beat this week at the Fraser Valley championships being hosted by the Bobcats.
Something no one saw coming at the start of the season?
How about the level at which the unknown, unimposing Dick has seamlessly transitioned to the upper ranks of B.C.’s Triple-A senior varsity basketball world?
Through an evolving mindset that has been helped by both the tutelage and the prodding of coaches Brown and Chris Veale, Dick has morphed from a pass-first player who assumed she would be a junior varsity player this season, into one who is hitting in the range of 50 per cent from beyond the arc and helping lead her team against the very best senior programs in the province.
On a team led by senior all-everything Louise Forsyth, she has assumed a role larger than she could have ever imagined just a few months ago when Brown plucked her from the junior varsity ranks as a depth player with promise.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” the 5-foot-7, 15-year-old Dick begins. “I never thought that I would be a Grade 10 starter. It’s something you hope for but nothing you think will happen. So it feels pretty good.”
Clearly, there is significance at Brookswood when you’re tapped to join the senior varsity before your 11th-grade time.
Sasha McKinnon, Candace Morisset, Tara Watts, Kelsey Adrian and Jessie Brown are the first five names that Brown mentions on a list that also includes the likes of Tayla Jackson and Aislinn Konig.
All of them went on to become next-level players and all of them excelled at the high school level in stints longer than the standard two-year age window.
“This year, we only had eight kids in Grades 11-12, so we went to the junior squad and said ‘We need three of your players,’” Brown continues of Dick, Janessa Knapp and Tasha Stenneth. “We picked some kids that we thought could play, but I will be honest, I never put (Dick) in the category of those other kids I mentioned.”
That appears to be changing very quickly.
A THOUSAND TIMES YES
Brown and Veale won’t bring up a player from the so-called underclass unless they are sure they can offer an amount of playing time that makes the jump worthwhile.
“I watched her in the mornings for a couple of years and she would hit some shots, but I had no clue about any of this,” says Brown. “You don’t anticipate a player ever coming in and hitting 50 per cent of her threes. But we agreed and the rest is history.”
Yet it’s almost comical how it all transpired, because as natural a shooter as she’s turned out to be, Dick still needed more than a little convincing.
“Coming up, I was always just a passer,” she explains, assuming her main role was going to be feeding the ball to Forsyth. “I’ve always tried to stay on top of my (shooting) form outside of practices, but everyone just kept telling me to shoot, so I would. And the more I shot in games, and started making more than I was used to, my confidence grew.”
These days, as Brown studies Dick’s shot, even the crusty, old professor himself can only speak in glowing terms.
“A lot of kids will shoot 10 shots 100 times,” Brown begins, eluding to the fact that upon close inspection, each group of 100 will come with a slightly different delivery. “But Jenna shoots one shot a thousand times. She shoots the same shot. It has great motion, a compact delivery. The mechanics are the same on every shot she takes and that is a huge difference.”
In a recent game, she hit seven treys in the first half, and in another, she had nine for the game.
Brown relates a story in which an opposition coach asked him if he Grade 10 point guard “was any good.” After telling the coach that he would be surprised, Dick, who is averaging 19 points-per-game after spending the early part of her season learning a new role, scored 27 in the first half.
Dick credits her time barnstorming the U.S. in the high school off-season with the B.C.’s Finest club team as playing a huge role in her individual skill development.
It’s helped her make such a rousing debut at senior varsity that even Brown admits it’s hard to be grumpy when he is in her presence.
“She’s pretty smart for a young kid,” he begins. “She walked into our first practice and Chris and I just looked at each other and we said ‘This is our starting point guard.’
“But every time I look at her, she just smiles,” he adds. “I can’t get mad at her. I just laugh and then I get on someone else.”
To which Jenna Dick, wise beyond her years, replies: “It’s hard to see through Brown, but I try to take it all in, in a positive way. And besides, I’ll take a smile any day.”
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