LANGLEY — Ask Mason Bourcier about the good times he is starting to have again on the basketball court, and he seems to first take a backwards glance into his own figurative rearview mirror before speaking.
“I used to be that kid, who if you showed him a brick wall, he’d run right through it,” Trinity Western’s fourth-year point guard admits.
“But now I see that wall and I try to find other ways around it,” adds Bourcier, whose banner season has helped the Spartans push its league record to 6-9 after an 0-7 start. On Thursday, TWU heads north to Kelowna for a rare stand-alone Thursday (7 p.m.) clash with the host UBC Okanagan Heat (2-12).
It’s the start of a tough, three-game Canada West regular-season ending road trip which also includes dates Feb. 16 at Thompson Rivers and Feb. 19 at UNBC, and for a TWU men’s basketball team which had started the current campaign without a credited conference win since the end of the 2017-18 season, running that gauntlet would give them a .500 record (9-9) heading into the postseason and make them the nation’s most improved team.
And if this season has been all about a fresh start for the team coming off the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 campaign, it’s been just that and more on a personal level for Bourcier, the former Kelowna Owls superstar turned university hoops vagabond, who elected to leave the UBC Thunderbirds program just before the start of the 2019-20 Canada West campaign, transferred to the national U SPORTS powerhouse Carleton Ravens ahead of the pandemic-cancelled 2020-21 season, then returned to B.C. this season looking to work off two years of rust with the Spartans.
As of this past weekend, it was hard to dispute that one of the most dynamic B.C. high school players of this century had found a way to love the game again, and the barometre has been in all the ways in which the best parts of his game have found a way to reach a common point of intersection.
In a 105-101 home overtime win over Prince George’s UNBC Timberwolves this past Friday at the Langley Events Centre, Bourcier put up a line score of 27 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds, thus marking not only the third triple-double of his career, but his third over a span of five games, putting him within one of the Canada West career record held by former Winnipeg Wesmen superstar Erfan Nasajpour, who concluded his five-year U SPORTS career after the 2007-8 season.
Incredibly, as UNBC turned the tables on TWU the next day after extracting an 82-78 win to earn a weekend series split, Bourcier almost did it again, strangely enough with 12 rebounds, 11 assists but just eight points.
Yet as prestigious as triple-doubles have remained within the lore of the game, no other statistical accomplishment has seemed to have a way of creating the perception that the player is putting himself before the team than the stat-sheet stuffing trifecta.
When it comes to Bourcier, however, Trinity Western head coach Trevor Pridie is quick to nip that one in the bud.
“He has this ‘never-say-die’ mindset and I think that we, as a team, have adopted that,” begins Pridie of Bourcier, whose recent surge has seen him pull away and lead all of U SPORTS men’s basketball at 7.7 assists-per-game.
“This guy works so hard in practice and he’s just getting better,” continued Pridie, who has watched both Bourcier and fellow guard Ja’Qulayn Gilbreath (26.9 ppg, No. 3 nationally) build great chemistry together as first-year teammates.
“We’ve won six of our last eight, we’re excited, we’re meshing and jelling, and he is going to chase that (triple-double) record, but it’s never about stats for him,” continued Pridie of his point guard, who is also averaging 15.8 points-per-game and a team-leading 8.9 rebounds per game. “He’s just playing hard and making good decisions, and when it’s over, you look at the box and go ‘Wow, triple-double.’”
Yet the fourth-year Bourcier will admit, that in concert with a so-called re-birth of his game, has come his part in the shared responsibility of rebounding on a team, which this season due to injury, does not have a great depth of height behind 6-foot-9 veteran Andrew Goertzen and 6-foot-10 rookie Connor Platz.
“Being a bit of a smaller team, I had to crash the glass, and I was taught at an earlier age that no matter how skilled you might happen to be, you played your heart out,” begins Bourcier.
“It’s been the result of a fast-paced game-plan and a bigger guard just needing to rebound. I am just playing as hard as I can and it’s coming to me. If I tried to force it, or if I ever thought about it, it wouldn’t happen.”
Bourcier’s high school coach Harry Parmar says that while the triple-double has been an incredibly tough nut to crack in the Canada West, that his former player brings both the physical package and the required mindset to make it happen.
“Mace is a 6-foot-4, 195-pound point guard who can get 10 rebounds and that is the hard part,” says Parmar. “Most point guards can go out and get the 10 assists in a given game, but the rebounds… that’s the hard part.”
With the guard trio of Gilbreath, Bourcier and fellow newcomer Tre Fillmore (12.3 ppg) meshing as Pridie had hoped they would, the head coach says there is a shared belief in each other which will serve the Spartans well heading into the playoffs.
“Tre came at the end of August and they have become three guards who each play over 30 minutes a night for us,” began Pridie. “We knew it would take time, but they’ve been mentally tough and to their credit, they have figured it out. We thought we could have a bit more of a favourable schedule in the second half (TWU was a combined 0-6 against UBC and Victoria over the first half), and that if we could survive that, we could go on a deep playoff run. But we’ve got to keep trying to gain momentum.”
For Bourcier, gaining momentum in every part of life has been the big reason for his renaissance season.
“He can be a bit of a perfectionist and when things are not going right, it affects him,” says Parmar, who led Bourcier and the Owls to back-to-back B.C. finals in 2016 and ’17, including winning it all the first year.
For Bourcier, the journey to re-discover his passion for game came with its share of bumps.
“The physical part of the game was always there for me, but for me the biggest thing was the mental side of things,” he explains.
“Sometimes, I lacked the confidence,” he further admitted, “but I believe that I took a lot away from the last two-and-a-half years, and the biggest piece was, once I started to believe in myself, and get it out of my head, that it would all come back. I am enjoying the game again. I am loving the game and the roots of what brought me to it in the first place.”
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