PORT COQUITLAM — Marcus Flores will admit that nothing can ever fully replicate the feeling of stepping out in front of a screaming, sold-out crowd to play for a provincial championship title at the home of B.C. high school basketball, otherwise known as the Langley Events Centre.
That’s just what the 6-foot-7 senior forward/centre and the rest of his Semiahmoo Thunderbirds teammates experienced last March in a B.C. Quad-A title game loss to the Burnaby South Rebels.
Yet as Flores reminded this past Saturday night, this season’s Quad-A No. 1-ranked ‘Birds are not afraid to lean on a little of that LEC title-game feeling each and every time they take to the court these days, no matter who the opposition might happen to be.
“It just feels like every single game we play is at the provincial final level,” Flores said after helping the Thunderbirds to a 77-59 win over Victoria’s No. 6 Oak Bay Bays in the championship final of the Legal Beagle invitational Saturday night at Terry Fox Secondary School (award winners listed below).
Spurred by its loss to the Rebels last March, the top-of-the-polls ‘Birds have become older and wiser in one very distinct way: They know now that they are getting every team’s best shot, and that is something the Bays, after a shake start, delivered in Saturday’s Beagle final.
Getting blitzed to the tune of a 21-4 game-opening Semiahmoo run, Oak Bay battled back behind the play of tournament MVP Griffin Arnatt, who scored 13 of his game-high 33 points in the third quarter, helping Oak Bay to pull within seven (60-53) early in the fourth quarter.
Flores said that ever since the team’s only loss this season against B.C. competition, a November tournament setback to Vancouver’s St. Patrick’s Celtics, the Thunderbirds have dialled up their own level of intensity and expectation.
“That was a lesson that we need to understand that every team in the province can have their best game against us,” he explained. “They see us as that top level, so we needed to learn that we need to come out 100 per cent every single game. We have to be playing at that intensity every single time.”
Turning the tide of Oak Bay momentum, Semiahmoo went on an 11-1 run over a span of just under five minutes, turning up the tempo and riding three-pointers from Maddox Budiman and Andre Juco, and a put-back off his own offensive rebound by Flores to lead 71-59 with 4:10 remaining.
“We played a little tentative at the start and we got down,” admitted Bays’ assistant coach Graham Taylor, “and it’s tough to get down to such a good team as that. But our guys showed a lot of heart and determination and came back and made it a game in the end. So we’re all proud of the boys for their effort and realizing they can play with them.”
Point guard Torian Lee and forward Cole Bekkering led the winners with 16 points apiece while Grade 11 forward Jack Clayton impressed with 13. Juco and Flores had nine apiece while the balanced attack was rounded out with eight points from Budiman.
Toren Franklin with nine points and Thomas Beames with eight brought the Bays’ offensive punch behind the 6-foot-4 senior Arnatt.
“They are a tough team, we figured they are right in the mix, right there with us, so we were worried about it and tonight they showed they were tough to stop,” said Semiahmoo head coach Les Brown. “Their guy (Arnatt) had like 33? He is tough to stop. So for our guys it’s having focus. They know the Oak Bay guys from club ball so they have some comfort with that. And then (midway through the fourth) we just really turned it on. I feel if we work in transition we are tough to stop.”
In early December, Oak Bay, behind the tournament MVP play of Arnatt, won the top tier of the 2022 Tsumura Basketball Invitational, topping Kelowna in the championship final.
Interestingly, when the Thunderbirds ran into a little front court foul trouble in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Brown started to lean more and more on the 6-foot-7, Grade 11 forward Clayton, a true rising gem who is as effective as an inside banger as he is rising at the perimeter to knock down threes.
“Clayton, he’s been the hero of our team,” said Flores of his fellow forward, whom he has known since their early time together at South Surrey’s Ray Shepherd Elementary.
“His post-up game has been vital for us down the stretch of every single game,” Flores added of Clayton, who played on the ‘Birds JV team last season while Bekkering and Flores, each year older, starred for the senior team. “He has been amazing and his game has really progressed.”
At one stage, Brown had all three on the floor, and the full ceiling of that trio in concert with the likes of guards Lee, Juco and Budiman is something which could be very imposing come March.
Well, Semiahmoo had its planned holiday tournament time in Palm Springs wiped out by flight cancellations, and thus when you ask Lee about the edge his team has been playing with of late, he credits it all to the heat of daily practice battles.
“It was a lot of compete,” Lee says. “We all wanted to play (over the holidays) so (our own gym) was the only place we could play. We brought everything to practice and from each other, we have all gotten better.”
Adds head coach Brown, the former Richmond Colt who played under the legendary Bill Disbrow in high school: “We give them their assignments, and I say it all starts with defence. Coming in here after playing for an old school guy like Disbrow, it’s always defence first and they are all buying in.”
With the Legal Beagle title under their belts, the Thunderbirds will play in three more invitationals this season beginning with upcoming Snowball at Abbotsford Secondary, followed by the Vancouver College Emerald and the Kelowna Western Canada.
And by the time evening rolled around and the gym began to clear out Saturday at the Legal Beagle, Semiahmoo players were absolutely clear in their season long goals.
“One down and three more to go… that’s the goal and I am telling you that right now,” said Flores as it pertained to the shorter term of the in-season invitational tourneys.
Added Lee when asked what it felt like to play as the team to beat by everyone they face: “That’s what happens when you’re (ranked) No. 1 and we want to keep that. We like that… we like that.”
KELOWNA 79 TERRY FOX 63
It’s not the way the Quad-A No. 4 Kelowna Owls planned it, yet adversity revealed a refreshing strain of resiliency head coach Harry Parmar was calling ‘a silver lining’ amidst an injury-plagued weekend.
The Owls fought off a determined third-quarter run from the host Terry Fox Ravens en route to a 16-point win and third place at the Legal Beagle invitational.
“Four of our biggest guys are hurt right now but there are no excuses,” said Parmar, a day after his star 6-foot-11 senior Will Keyes suffered a sprained ankle, joining the likes of the 6-foot-6 duo of Max Gainey and Nate Smith, and 6-foot-4 Jack Waterhouse. “Nobody cares. So why make them. I don’t believe in excuses. You just have to play the games, and that will make us better down the stretch because if someone gets in foul trouble, you’ve been there. And as a coach you know where everything fits.”
On Saturday, the host Ravens found themselves trailing by 14 points (45-31) early in the third quarter, yet a 22-11 run which spanned almost the entirety of the frame cut the gap to a single possession (56-53), capped by a three-pointer from Terry Fox’s Matteo Frost.
Although lacking the versatility normally afforded through their depth of height, the Owls mustered a run of their own to restore their dominance en route to the win.
Afterwards, Parmar credited his starting Grade 11 point guard Nash Semeniuk for involving his entire team in the proceedings.
And judging by the final tallies on offence, the load was indeed spread far and wide.
“Today what I thought he did well was that he didn’t try to do it all himself,” said Parmar. “He trusted his guys, and the more he trusts, then the easier it is for Nash because the floor gets spaced when other people are hitting, and Nash has better lanes.”
Semeniuk finished with 14 points while four others also hit double figures.
Walker Sodaro led the way with a game-high 20 points, Owen McParland added 14, Kayden Boersma 12 and Ayrton Daniels 11.
“They brought it to three and then we put it back to 20,” continued Parmar. “It was gutsy on their part, and it showed that our guys stuck to the plan. In times past, Nash might have said ‘I have to take care of this game all by myself’ but today they did it as a team.”
Ryan Marchand and Parker Kennedy each scored 13 for the Ravens, the latter later presented the tournament’s prestigious Terry Fox Award. Point guard Ethan Chae had nine points while forward Brendan Nightingale added eight.
St. George’s defeated Burnaby South 76-55 in the consolation final.
Dominic Aquino (St. George’s)
Nash Semeniuk (Kelowna)
Torian Lee (Semiahmoo)
Cole Bekkering (Semiahmoo)
Marcus Flores (Semiahmoo)
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Heath Taylor (Oak Bay)
Griffin Arnatt (Oak Bay)
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