LANGLEY — Imagine if the process of individual skill development started with a blank canvas, and instead of standing at the front of the easel, you grabbed your brush and palette and headed to the back of it.
Imagine a player, still pure of mind to the game, willing to take his first few steps on the court with the full belief that defence was every bit if not more important than offence.
We say ‘imagine’ because in this day and age, the neophyte arrives at his first-ever high school practice strictly concerned with offence, with replicating the highlight reel drives and wanting to take three-point shots.
Yet once in a figurative blue moon, happenstance delivers that blank canvas right through your gymnasium door, and on the day it happened at Vancouver’s King George Secondary, longtime senior varsity coach Darko Kulic just reacted from his gut.
“In our first practice together (spring league 2016), he asked me about defence and I told him ‘defend like a goalie,’” Kulic laughed Monday when the topic turned to his 6-foot-3 senior guard/forward Mohab Mundadi. “I told him to not let the ball or the player get by him, just like the puck.”
Once again, for perhaps the 10,000th time and counting, the transfer and benefit of a multi-sport background surfaces.
And as Mundadi and the King George Dragons (33-2) prepare to open play Wednesday (8:30 a.m., South Court) against Kamloops’ Sa-Hali Sabres here at the Langley Events Centre as the Lower Mainland champs and the No. 3 seed at the 2018 B.C. senior boys AA basketball championships, we are afforded the opportunity to tell a most old-school story at a time when such plotlines seem to be getting rarer and rarer.
Each year, we select one player from B.C.’s vast senior class that we brand ‘The Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of.’
And of course to varying degrees, we have heard of them all.
Yet like the last three — 2015’s Aleks Vranjes (Coquitlam-Centennial, SFU), 2016’s Trent Monkman (Smithers, Thompson Rivers) and 2017’s Michael Kelly (North Van-St. Thomas Aquinas, Capilano) — Mundadi is not on the radar the way that stars like Miguel Tomley of Tamanawis, James Woods of Walnut Grove and Martin Djunga of Byrne Creek are.
The school that is willing to bring him in next season, however, looks to have a prospect who has only just begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
THE GREEN LIGHT FOR A NEW RED LIGHT ROLE
By the way, you got that right.
Kulic did say ‘goalie’ and he did say ‘puck’ when referring to Mundadi.
For the majority of his youth sports career, Mundadi, born in Canada to parents of Congolese and Egyptian descent, played ice hockey as goaltender within the Vancouver Thunderbirds house league system.
On so many levels, it was the perfect match for him.
His reflexes, most notably his hands, were cat-quick.
As a spring-loaded, wing-span blessed athlete, he filled the cage by standing 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan.
Yet to ask Mundadi about it, there were also a lot of frustrations, and it was enough that this season, for the first time, he hung up the pads and played full-time hoops for the Dragons.
“Part of the reason I picked basketball was I liked playing with the guys, and I like the coaching,” says Mundadi, 18. “But it was also because I was frustrated with where I was going with hockey.”
Invited to showcase tournaments and receiving feelers from junior hockey teams, Mundadi and everyone around him were well aware that he played his position above-and-beyond the more recreational level of his house league teammates.
“But it was hard for my mom to support me playing at a higher level,” he continues, “with all of that travel, with everything that happened six days a week, going to New West and Langley and all of that. But I just wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at.”
And so if he couldn’t stop the puck at the level he wanted to on the ice, he decided he stop the pumpkin on the basketball court instead.
And so that’s why about 23 months ago, Mohab Mundadi the goalie arrived at King George basketball practice, asking first about defence and really not paying a whole lot of attention to the other half of the game, the one everybody else considered the most important.
UNDERSTATED AND UNDER THE RADAR
Coach Kulic has been on the Dragons’ urban campus for well over a decade, dating back to the years when I covered him as a player and 2005 grad of the West End school.
And as he thought about what Mundadi ultimately could represent in his program, two names came to mind: The NBA’s Kawhi Leonard and the NFL’s Richard Sherman.
Mellow, quiet and under-stated are the best words to describe Mundadi off the court, just like Leonard.
Yet like both on the floor, there is both a competitive fire, an ability to maximize physical gifts, and perhaps most important, a level of sensory perception that puts him at another level.
Consider that this season, Mundadi has averaged 7.6 steals per game, and by virtue of the Dragons’ hand-charted per-game tallies, around nine deflections a game.
“Last year in one of our games at the provincials, he had nine steals and he also had 12 deflections because his hands are so quick and his reflexes just unreal,” remembers Kulic. “When you think about it, on those stats alone that is about 20 possessions that he alters.
“You know the way we play, lots of teams just avoid going to his side of our zone,” continues Kulic of the Dragons’ disciplined and non-static base defence which in its match-up forms still allows Mundadi’s individuality to shine. This season, the Dragons, who hold a soft spot for the 2013 Seahawks, have held 30 of 35 foes under 50 points, averaging 40.4 points-per-game allowed and Mundadi is the biggest reason why.
“Never in my 10 years here have I had a young man who changes the game in so many different ways,” adds Kulic, who reminds that Mundadi’s mastery also extends to the classroom where he sets the bar for others in terms of homework club and other academic extra-mile add ons which are part of the Dragons overall program.
Several PacWest schools have expressed their interest in bringing Mundadi into their CCAA programs next season, and that should come as no surprise because if you look at his history, he is getting things done in unique ways at both ends of the court with a resumes that screams coachability.
As with Byrne Creek’s big man Majok Deng, however, the essence of Mundadi is the huge ceiling that exists for anyone with a wide-angle view.
THE BIGGEST PICTURE
We’ve spoken to what can happen when a blank canvas is delivered, almost in a vacuum, into a high school basketball program.
The level of a person’s character, however, has to have been influenced so much earlier in the process, and in the case of Mundadi, it’s his greatest strength.
“You know what?” begins Kulic. “Mohab has dunked 32 times this season. He is so athletic. He can throw down, but when he does, the thing that you will notice the most is how fast he runs to get back on defence and get a stop. That is how humble and hard-working he is.”
Mundadi doesn’t see the big deal.
“I think that’s from my hockey background,” he says. “I’m just not into celebrations.”
Ask him about his total game on the court, however, and he expresses gratitude for having come to learn under the auspices of Kulic.
“When I first started playing, I just figured that everyone played defence, and I just thought that what dictated the best players was which of them were better on offence,” Mundadi begins. “But Darko has made me see that there are two sides to the floor, so being a good scorer is only half of it.
“Everyone want to hit a big three like Harden or Curry, but not enough think about getting stops on defence. Offensive-minded guys get the hype for being scorers, so I enjoy coming in and trying to hold them to half of what they normally get. That’s my goal.”
Yet this isn’t a defence-only player.
We hinted at his offensive prowess through his dunk-per-game average, yet Mundadi has averaged 17.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 7.6 steals per game this season.
The Vancouver City AA MVP, has in fact, secured nine triple-doubles this season, and yes, each has come with steals completing the trifecta.
His line score suggests ‘team’ and ‘blue collar’ and that extends through to the personal relations he maintains within the locker room with his teammates.
In fact after the city championships, a game in which Kulic made Mundadi the main offensive player instead of the team’s ultra-talented scoring leader, guard Seyoung Choi who has averaged 20.1 points and 11.7 steals per game, Mundadi made sure his teammate knew his true feelings.
“Our team is more like a family, a brotherhood,” begins Mundadi, who sat in the post-game locker room next to Choi before the City Championship awards were handed out. “He told me I was going to be the MVP, and I disagreed and told him that regardless of who did, that he was our best player and one of the best players in B.C.”
Turns out Mundadi did win it, but not too soon afterwards, Choi was named the Lower Mainland MVP.
This follows on the heels of last season, when Mundadi was picked a city all-star but elected not to play in the game so that a teammate, who had been injured over the course of the regular season, could instead go and carry a memory away from his season and career.
“I am so honoured to have coached this young man, to call him my younger brother,” Kulic explains. “And I look forward to him making another coach, at the next level, as honoured as he made me feel.”
The provincials start Wednesday, and they’re important.
But they are not as big as the kinds of experiences which unfold so charismatically between coaches and student-athletes, between people who in the end, wind up calling themselves brothers.
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