VANCOUVER — Maybe the best way to describe the daily development of one of the most exciting young talents in recent B.C. boys basketball history is to say that Dionycius Bakare is going through two growth spurts at the same time.
By the most standard of measures, the prodigiously-talented Grade 10 guard with Vancouver’s King George Secondary Dragons stands at 6-foot-5.
That’s three inches taller than just 12 months ago, and critically worthy of mention since his size 18 feet could be seen as a harbinger of even more to come.
Yet the more significant spurt is the one which is happening daily within his already vast and evolving skill set.
And at the age of 15, it’s thankfully nowhere near complete.
Yet the parts we do see? They seem astonishingly mature, and perhaps most rare of all, are not flashed for show. Instead, they are leaned on out of the necessity of the moment.
That statement alone stands at the crux of who we are discovering this young man to be: Humble, respectful of team hierarchy to a fault, but in what these days is a period of fluid, game-to-game evolution, coming to the realization that expressing his skills on the court is not an act of bravado, but simply a giving of his best self to team.
And that is really saying something when you consider that over Double-A No. 2-ranked King George’s 21-1 start, Bakare has averaged an eye-popping 30.4 points, 14.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.1 blocks-per-game over what has been his first full season against senior varsity competition.
Yes, there have been many games in which the Dragons have simply overwhelmed weaker oppostion, yet Bakare has, many times, been re-tasked as a play-making facilitator in the second halves of games after putting up huge first-half numbers on a team that also includes blue-chippers like his richly-talented senior teammate and reigning provincial all-star Jose Zuluaga.
As well, it is hard to ignore the impact Bakare had this summer as one of the leading scorers on the B.C. team which won silver at the national Under-15 championships.
“I think the sky is the limit in terms of the fact that he has skill and athleticism, the work ethic and the right attitude,” said B.C. Under-15 head coach Matthew McKay, who watched Bakare mesh at nationals with another pair of uber talents on that squad in the form of Langley-Brookswood’s Logan Stewart and Justin Hinrichsen of Victoria-Spectrum
“It will be a question physically of how much does he grow? Is he that 6-8 or 6-9 guy? But if there is one thing I do know, and that is whatever he ends up being, he will get the most out of his ability. He is not going to be a guy who underachives.”
Can you offer a higher compliment?
COMING INTO HIS OWN
It’s a sleepy Jan. 18 evening in the downtown Vancouver gym at King George Secondary in which the host Dragons are never tested en route to a lopsided league win over the Gladstone Gladiators.
Taking a year off from coaching of any kind, something he has very rarely done over the past 50 years, B.C. coaching dean Bill Disbrow was among the small crowd gathered that night.
Yet despite his self-professed “poor memory”, what Disbrow witnessed that day will likely prove to be something he won’t forget any time soon.
“I think there must have been about three minutes gone in the second quarter, and by that time, he must have already had 30 (points),” Disbrow related a few days later, this time while seated inside UBC’s War Memorial Gym to once again watch King George as they faced Richmond’s Steveston London Sharks in an exhibition prior to the Thunderbirds game that night against the Regina Cougars.
“What dazzled me were the four threes that he hit that night, all with perfect form,” continued Disbrow, the man who led the Richmond Colts to five top-tiered provincial boys titles over his career.
“Now, there wasn’t a lot of resistance,” he offered for balance, “but everything that he did was no fluke. I think he had eight dunks by that point and some finesse shots around the rim.
“He has a good attitude and he finishes,” added Disbrow of Bakare, who boasts a 6-foot-9 wingspan and knows how to use it. “A lot of kids can’t finish. With his size, he’s going to be a guard unless he sprouts, so he has to learn to make moves off the dribble, have a jumper, and find people. But he’s what, 15?”
For the record, over that first half of play alone against Gladstone, Bakare finished with 39 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
It’s Dec. 7, opening day at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, and with the cream of the crop of B.C. high school talent in the house, there is hoops fever in the air at the Langley Events Centre.
As part of the Rising Eights portion of the tourney, reserved for teams with the potential to join the ranks of B.C.’s uber elite squads over the next year, the Dragons go on to suffer what has thus far been their only loss of the season, surrendering a last-second shot in a 67-66 setback to the North Delta Huskies.
It’s a hard-fought win for the Huskies to be sure, but if you watched it, you would have barley noticed Dionycius Bakare.
So much so that what happened after the game has turned out to be the turning point of both his season and his team’s season.
“He is such a kind human, and he doesn’t ever want to step on anyone’s toes, so after that game we had a talk,” says King George head coach Darko Kulic of the fact that Bakare felt it wasn’t his place to usurp his more senior-laden teammates, and thus deferred to play the role of facilitator.
“That’s why it was wonderful to see all of the other guys from Jose, to Darko (Karac), to Rishin (Uppal) all go up to him and basically say ‘We know what you can do, we don’t care what grade you’re in.’ Since that time he has just taken off. He goes out there and he just wants to keep improving. But I’ve never coached a kid so humble.”
For his part, Bakare has taken the reassurances of his teammates to heart.
“They are enthusiatic when I run the fast break and attack the basket,” the soft-spoken Bakare explained. “It boosts team morale, and it motivates us all to play harder to compete.”
TREADING RARE AIR
Cast a scout’s eye on Dionycius Bakare, and if you take notes, you’ll start to see trends developing when it comes to his vast cache of skills.
My first comes while seated along the baseline at War Memorial Gymnasium.
Crouched in a photographer’s position along the far baseline to snap some images for this story, my viewfinder is focussed on the paint and shows what you might expect is the usual crosstown traffic of a boys high school basketball game.
But then, in the midst of all that congestion, something happens that makes you do a double take.
Seemingly trapped with no room to operate, the basketball finds Bakare, and in the blink of an eye, he has found a way to free himself with the slighest of feigns.
It almost appears as a nervous tick, yet it’s a fake that ripples through the opposition Sharks.
Before you know what’s happened, his wingspan has been revealed, and it’s that full extension into a wide-swath reverse lay-in that manufactures a bucket within an offensive desert.
Ask Matt McKay what he saw during his time with the B.C. Under-15 team last summer, and the same level of play Bakare is now showing against older high school competition was clearly visible at the top level of national age-group play.
“He got out in transition, he played above rim, played well in off-screen action and diving to the rim,” summed McKay. “His perimetre game is still evolving, but he could just put it on the floor and go by guys, finish over guys.”
It’s then that McKay gets around to a speciality of Bakare’s, the stuff that most simply can’t do.
“He gets off really quick, you know, he gets up so quick and effortlessly,” McKay continued.
“Dennis Rodman… he would go up, and (then) up a second time before other guys even landed,” he said referencing one of the most spring-loaded, sensory-filled rebounders in the game’s history. “There’s that, and (Bakare) is able to use both hands around the rim.”
That is something Disbrow also appreciates.
Yet as he addresses the young player’s ever-expanding skill set, he is quick to stress that there is more to the great players than their brand of mere physical presence.
“He is at a different level athletically than most kids, and I don’t really like saying that because he has worked on his skills as well,” Disbrow explains. “He hasn’t just been gifted. He’s worked at it. I like him when he gets out on the break… the speed and quickness and body control.. that’s tough to stop.”
Bakare, Stewart and Hinrichsen, among other top B.C. players in the graduating Class of 2025, would seem to be on the radar of Canada Basketball which is scheduled to hold a national Under 16 camp later this year.
Ask Disbrow about some of the best then-Grade 10 players he remembers watching or coaching throughout his lengthy career and a few pretty impressive names come to mind.
“At Richmond High most of my good guys were good young, Brian Tait, Ron Putzi, Joey deWit… those guys could really play when they were in Grade 10,” Disbrow said of the trio that would form the foundation of his back-to-back B.C. top-tiered titlists in 1987 and 1988.
“I am terrible (remembering) all of this stuff, but Philip Scrubb was also a great Grade 10,” he said of the longtime national team player and star with the Carelton Ravens whom he coached at Vancouver College.
For his part, while stressing he hasn’t seen a lot of Bakare, he puts the young King George star in the same company, suggesting that he might even be better than that quartet was when they were each in the 10th grade.
And speaking of all players in general, Disbrow has one message: Keep it simple.
“Sometimes, the game feels like it’s a little too easy and what’ll happen with some of the ones who seem to have gotten good at a young age, is that they’ll start to manufacture difficulty, and then their game starts to go away.” he explained.
“I mean, the simpler you do things… keep doing that if it works. Try to make it even simpler. Don’t start doing double pumps, don’t fade away and spin-o-rama. That stuff drifts in and kids forget the basics of why they are good.”
Disbrow says all of this safe in the knowledge that thus far, Bakare’s work habits have been exemplary and that his so-called ‘flash’ carries both nuance and neccessity.
Still, it’s front-row, bag-of-popcorn worthy stuff.
“We’re not used to seeing a kid like Bakare who glides like that,” begins Kulic, who has taught his players about NBA history over the past 35 years or so by reaching back and comparing at the B.C. high school level, the same kinds of traits so many past greats were able to display on the world’s biggest stage.
“He’s got that Kawhi Leonard-, Clyde Drexler-type of mix, because he really does glide,” continued Kulic after the game at UBC.
“You saw it today… he dunked four or five times, and he does it so smooth. He can windmill, but it’s always just normal dunks because he is not into showing anybody up.
“And I think, for the culture of kids today, that is amazing to see.”
It’s like we referenced off the top: Bakare’s humility and respect for others is the first thing everyone within his bubble will tell you about.
Yet the fact that it strides lockstep onto the court with such jaw-dropping skill is what brings you pause.
Indeed, there’s something pretty special going on here.
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