SURREY — At virtually every turn, he has placed bookmarks in the historical timeline of B.C. boys high school basketball.
Remember when he turned heads at the 2015 Terry Fox Legal Beagle invitational by averaging 26 ppg as a Grade 9?
Or in 2016 when he became the first Grade 10 boys player to be named to the highest-tiered first all-star team at the provincial senior varsity championships since White Rock Christian’s Tyrell Mara in 2003?
And how about last season, when the timing of his decision to leave Orangeville Prep in Ontario, and return home to try to re-join his Tamanawis Secondary teammates sparked the most meaningful discussion our province has yet seen on the prep school issue?
After three years of being in the spotlight, Miguel Tomley has been a torch-bearer of sorts, and now, as he becomes fully entrenched in his senior campaign with Surrey’s No. 1-ranked Quad A Wildcats, the historian in all of us can’t help but to try to find a comparable.
Or perhaps more precisely, if Tamanawis is to put behind it the disappointment of two unfulfilled Final Four appearances over the past four seasons and step up to win the 2018 Telus B.C. Quad A title, just what kind of role is the supremely talented 6-foot-3 guard going to have to play?
TIMELY FOR TOMLEY?
There is a stigma that is somewhat unfairly attached to the 1995 top-tiered Triple A provincial champions from Ladysmith Secondary.
Yes, without doubt, Tony McCrory was among the single most impactful players in B.C. tourney history when he led the 49ers to a 74-70 title-game win over Abbotsford’s MEI Eagles at the old PNE Agrodome.
Yet head coach Randy Steel’s team could also be defined by its total team buy-in from a selfless cast of accomplished players, including the likes of teammate Darcy Kulai who, in support of McCrory’s 37 points in the championship final, had 20 himself en route to joining the tourney’s MVP on the first all-star team.
Over the recently completed holiday break, I found myself at Tamanawis’ Holiday Classic, and on its opening day, watched as Tomley scored 35 first-half points in an eventual win over crosstown foe L.A. Matheson.
It was as confident and assured a 35 as you were apt to see this side of say, Kelly Olynyk in 2008-09, or perhaps Tyler Kepkay in 2004-05.
Whatever Tomley wanted, he took. And when he started feeding others, you got that weird feeling that you had seen this before, back in March of 1995 at the PNE Agrodome in a game in which McCrory dominated while Steve Nash, who had flown in from Santa Clara, sat in the stands to watch.
And so, with that history in mind, I approached Tammy’s veteran head coach Mike McKay in the post-game locker room.
I offered my comparable and I awaited his response.
“I think we have a little more depth but that’s a very good actual comparison in terms of the player,” said McKay, the former Fraser Valley Cascade, churning his memory banks and entering Tomley’s current numbers as a comparison.
“We’ve played a bunch of games this season in the U.S. and over eight-minute quarters down there, Miguel was averaging 34 points a game. Up here, with the 10-minute quarters, he’s averaging about 46.”
Yet if you are going to start tossing around McCrory’s name, almost a quarter century after his senior season, you need to be pretty outstanding. And, quite obviously, you need to back it up with a deep run in the provincial tournament. So it goes without saying that so much more needs to happen. Yet we wouldn’t be resurrecting all of these memories and numbers if there wasn’t a player giving us good reason to, a player who not only has the skill, but the opportunity with which to maximize his scoring prowess.
And just so you know how great our province’s best-ever top-tiered scorers have been, I have culled a list which includes players who did their B.C. tourney scoring exclusively on the championship side of the draw where the prospect of sudden-elimination made every game meaningful. In other words, their totals reflect a four-game journey right through the championship game.
McCrory (1995) leads the way with the highest scoring average over four games at B.C.’s highest-tiered tournament with a 38.3 ppg average,.
No. 2? In 1992 Scott Walton, the big man from Pitt Meadows, averaged 35.8 points as the Marauders lost to Nash’s SMUS Blue Devils in the title tilt.
No. 3 is Jauquin Bennett-Boire who averaged 35.5 ppg in leading the Yale Lions past the Terry Fox Ravens in an epic 2015 title final.
No. 4 is Richmond’s Pasha Bains, who led the Colts to the 1998 championship by averaging 34.8 ppg.
These numbers represent the gold standard.
We bring them up today because if Tamanawis is able to make its run to the final, Tomley would be just the kind of player whose vast skills would be counted upon to score the basketball in the same ways as McCrory, Walton, Bennett-Boire and Bains before them.
A DIFFERENT PLAYER
Earlier in this piece, I referenced my memory of a Grade 9 Tomley averaging 26 ppg at the 2015 Legal Beagle, a tournament which is annually loaded with the top tiers top teams.
Back in those days, Tomley would go through extended periods on the floor where he might not be the most noticeable player.
Then, in the bursts which recommended his future potential, he would explode.
Lay-ups off steals, one trey after another, tip-ins. All would come in fast measure.
Seeing Tomley play for the first time since he left for Orangeville, at the Tammy holiday tournament, it was like watching a different player.
First, there was the muscle and strength that maturation and dedication to the cause brings.
After he finished with 45 against L.A. Matheson, I said to him ‘Before you left, you took what the game offered, but now, you just take what you want.’”
His response: “Yeah, because when I was in Orangeville, everyone I played against was really good. They were all (future NCAA) Div. 1 players. I am not saying that B.C. is bad, only that it’s a lot different from that. I have been able to come in here and work on what I want.”
McKay has noticed what everyone else has.
“Before, he might have just stood on the outside, floating and then shooting a three,” begins McKay of Tomley, who will join former Walnut Grove guard Ty Rowell next season at Cap Baptist as the Lancers begin their first season at Div. 1. “He had the capabilities to do more, but he didn’t really have to with our team two years ago. This year, he not only scores, but he facilitates, too. And on top of that he’s our leading rebounder. Body-wise, he has gotten stronger as he’s gotten older. You notice that right away. He knows that to play at the next level, he needs to be able to do other things on the court and that if he doesn’t, he is just going to sit there and be trapped.”
ON BOOKER AND BAINS
Ask Tomley what a big goal is for him this season, and besides wanting to win the B.C. title, it’s extending his growing leadership abilities to insure that the Wildcats become tighter and tighter as a team.
To that end, there is pride in his voice when he talks about his teammates.
“I can score when I want, but I want Jeevan (Sidhu) and Josiah (Lal) and the guys on the bench to be able to come in and produce as well,” he says, referencing a pair of the team’s 6-foot-6 forwards, who are key along with the likes of last season’s leading scorer Akash Dhaliwal and three-point shooter Preet Kailey. “The big thing me is to be a better leader.”
Ask Tomley who has inspired him, and he looks back to his younger days within the Tamanawis program, as well as to the present-day NBA.
“I think Sukhjot is the first guy I looked up to,” Tomley says of Sukhjot Bains, the 6-foot-6 guard currently playing his first D1 season as a junior with Wisconsin-Green Bay where he is averaging 17 minutes per game with the Phoenix.
“I was in Grade 8 when he was in Grade 12 (and Tamanawis lost in the 2014 AAA B.C. Final Four) and I got to sit on the bench,” remembers Tomley. “I got to play 20 seconds that season at the LEC against Mouat.”
His other inspiration?
There’s a local connection there as well.
“I love to watch the NBA and Devin Booker is a player I really look up to,” Tomley says of the 21-year-old Phoenix Suns scoring machine who is coached by ex-Simon Fraser player and coach Jay Triano. “I think my game is a lot like his, so I have tried to model myself after him a bit.”
Sure, playing the comparison game at any level can be a little dangerous, and it can be a little unfair.
But when you’re talking about that select handful of B.C.’s most impactful high school players ever, you do a disservice by limiting potential.
And thus, when the topic turns to Miguel Tomley, it’s OK to think big.
He is, and he won’t ever stop chasing his dreams.
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