BURNABY — Josiah Mastandrea never figured he’d be a part of a night like this Saturday night, a night where the basketball-karma-ooze-o-metre breaks, the mercury spills and the crowd packed into the West Gym on the campus of Simon Fraser University goes wild.
Yet as a testament to those players draped in the kind of never-say-die cloth from which the 6-foot-2, 188 pound off-guard is cut, the kid most talent evaluators considered an afterthought as far as enjoying a productive college career when he came out of Terry Fox Secondary, has reached his senior season not only defying those odds, but this season playing a major role as SFU plays host to the crosstown UBC Thunderbirds, as mentioned Saturday (7:30 p.m.), in the first Buchanan Cup men’s hoop grudge match since 2015.
Yet ask the 22-year-old hoops survivor about what it has meant to first keep his head above water, and these days play at the crest of that figurative wave, and he’ll tell you it’s been as simple as taking things one step at a time.
“For sure,” agrees Mastandrea. “I didn’t think about all of this, about playing in college, but I always loved basketball and now I’m playing playing (NCAA) D-2 basketball. I never thought about it. My goal was just to work hard and to try and play at the highest level possible.”
As of Friday, some 1,100 tickets had been pre-sold for the event in a West Gym.
And by the time opening tip arrives in front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd, Mastandrea will have pulled on his No. 1 jersey and gotten ready to come off the bench to play his role as not only an ace three-point bomber, but a pugnacious defender at the off-guard spot.
Having grown into a key role back in 2017-18 while playing for a Douglas College Royals team coached at that time by current UFV Cascades bench boss and Joe Enevoldson, Mastandrea most famously drained four treys in third quarter of the CCAA national semifinals, rallying his team from 17 down to stun defending national champion Nomades de Montmorency on its own court in Laval, before later settling for the silver medal
And yet as Mastandrea eyed his next move, to the NCAA level at Simon Fraser, his initial meetings with head coach Steve Hanson centred around one burning question.
“When we brought him in, he was in the unique opportunity of taking a redshirt, which was the pandemic year,” said Hanson. “My deal with him was ‘If you can show me that you can guard guys at this level, then you will play, but if you don’t, then technically, you’d still have two more years left at the U SPORTS level.”
No one was more delighted than Hanson that his challenge to Mastandrea was answered in the affirmative.
And after showcasing the effectiveness of his two-way game throughout fall training sessions, everything came together in the team’s third-and-final game at the CCAA/GNAC Challenge in Carson, Cal., this past Monday.
In an 88-77 loss to Cal State-Los Angeles, Mastandrea scored 22 points in 22 minutes, hitting four treys and turning three of his four steals into lay-ups.
“When you put anyone in a one-on-one full court drill, you see foot speed right away, along with change of direction, and strength in the legs and hips and he had that,” added Hanson of Mastandrea, whose love affair with fitness and weight room has him tailor-made to create offence off his defence.
Yet among his most endearing qualities has been growth towards the understanding that he could always get better, something that he was just beginning to grasp near the end of his high school career.
“I thought I was strong enough and fast enough, but honestly I wasn’t ready,” Mastandrea admits of the learning curve he went through to adjust defensively to the Div. 2 level during the pandemic season of 2020-21.
“Guys are quicker at this level and you have to know how to play them,” he continued, “not just rely on your athleticism. So there was a lot of learning, and honestly (the COVID season) was a blessing in disguise. It helped me get used to the game. It’s a big change from high school to the PacWest to here, and that time really helped me catch up.”
Which brings us to Saturday’s big game on Burnaby Mountain.
The match-ups, in fact, are enticing all over the court, from Simon Fraser’s Jas Singh and Julian Roche in the front court, matching their skill-sets against the likes of UBC’s Sukhman Sandhu, Brian Wallack and Jamesley Jerome, to the point guards in SFU’s David Penney and UBC’s Jack Cruz-Dumont.
At times in California, Hanson experimented with some small-ball line-ups which included Penney, starting off-guard Drew Bryson and Mastandrea playing as a trio.
Yet no one will be surprised if come Saturday, two B.C. players with a familiarity for each other’s games, face-off in the Buchanan Cup.
“For sure I played against James Woods in some of those Terry Fox-Walnut Grove battles,” Mastandrea said of the 6-foot-1, relentlessly tough former B.C. high school MVP guard who played for Langley’s Gators, and this season has become a huge part of the ‘Birds schematic, coming into the gam as the off-guard and averaging 16.3 ppg.
It’s just the kind of assignment Mastandrea started preparing himself for as he left high school at Terry Fox.
In between his Grade 11 and 12 years, he started training under the eye of two former Fraser Valley-area high school standouts in Terry Fox’s Bret Macdonald and Doug Plumb of Pitt Meadows.
To this day, Mastandrea credits the pair with breaking down his game in the summer before his Grade 12 year and building it back up to where it is now. And the pair weren’t afraid to show plenty of tough love to do it.
“Those two changed my mindset around basketball, and that change was both mental and physical,” Mastandrea says of the pair who later continued to work with him through the Vancouver Basketball Academy. “The training we did was crazy. They made me a better player and they made a better person.”
In the end, who could have wished for a better journey, a journey in which everything was earned, a journey in which dedication’s dividend was the rarest of gifts: An on-court presence.
And all of that is going to come in handy come Saturday when a long-awaited B.C. rivalry game is rekindled on a night he never figured to have, a night when the gym goes crazy.
BUCHANAN BITS — Saturday’s game was supposed to be a part of the SFU Showdown invitational, however the draw was drastically shrunk when Central Washington was forced to pull out of the event due to COVID-19 issues.
If you are unable to attend Saturday’s SFU vs. UBC game, it will be available via stream at by clicking here. SFU will also play host to the Langara Falcons in a 5 p.m. Sunday game.
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