LANGLEY — One year later, it’s time to cue the comeback… or should that be ‘Q’ the comeback?
Fans of the men’s basketball team at Trinity Western University are clearly hoping so.
On Thursday, the Spartans faithful as well as Canada West hoops afficionados will have their first opportunity since the early days of 2020 to watch TWU’s uber-talented, star-crossed scoring guard Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath take to the court at the Langley Events Centre with the rest of his teammates as part of U SPORTS’ 14th annual Shoot For The Cure, a cancer fundraising endeavour (full details on how watch and how to support the cause below).
The skills challenge event, which also includes the Spartans’ women’s team and promises to “…diligently follow all the health and safety protocols that have been set out by British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer and viaSport”, will only be available via free live stream from the LEC.
It’s hard to remember much of anything that happened in the weeks leading up to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet you may recall the travails of the Trinity Western men’s basketball program around that time as it related to Gilbreath, its stunningly lethal 6-foot-2 guard, a virtual Texas tornado who had come north and at the time was leading the entire U SPORTS hoops nation in scoring at 27.0 ppg.
In what was a heartbreaking turn of events for Gilbreath and the team, an administrative error was made at TWU, one which incorrectly allowed the transfer out NCAA Div. 2 Lubbock Christian to play for the Spartans over the first 14 games of the Canada West season, rather than red-shirt the entire season as required for being a non-Canadian citizen/resident attempting to transfer schools.
One year later, it’s no stretch to say that hearing Trinity Western head coach Trevor Pridie utter Gilbreath’s name is something akin to a breath of fresh air over what has been a lost season in Canadian university basketball.
“I think Q is going to be a front-runner to win a few of these competitions… it’s going to be fun to see if anyone can knock him off,” laughs Pridie of the Amarillo, TX native who will be the man to beat in the three-point and dunk contests.
Yet to Pridie, more heartening than anything is the fact that Gilbreath, after having his record-threatening 2019-20 season wiped off the books through no fault of his own in addition to having the season count towards his eligibility, still elected to remain in Canada with his teammates this season instead of pursuing what would have been a plug-and-play senior collegiate season back in the U.S., or even a pro career overseas.
“He is an amazing kid,” acknowledged Pridie. “His work ethic is off the charts and he is significantly better than he was.”
Last season, Trinity Western was sitting with a 2-12 record at the time Gilbreath was ruled ineligible. The two wins, however, were stripped, and the Spartans went a valiant 0-6 the rest of the way en route to an 0-20 campaign.
Now, despite the hurdles of a cancelled season, Pridie sees a silver lining which has revealed itself, all thanks to Gilbreath.
“So when we get back to playing, it will be amazing because our young guys who have come in, they have seen his work ethic,” the coach begins.
“He made sacrifices to stay here because he wants to win here,” Pridie continued. “He wants to have a big fifth year, especially with everything that happened. He wants to leave a mark here, and I know the rest of the guys don’t want to let him down.”
Although they don’t officially exist due to the ineligibility ruling, the damage Gilbreath inflicted on the opposition in 2019-20 was very real.
Put it this way: Although it was an 0-20 conference campaign, you can take four of Gilbreath’s performances, all single-digit losses by the improving Spartans, as a true sign of his ability to dominate.
In a 99-92 loss to Saskatchewan, he scored 38 points.
And then there was the damage he inflicted on three local B.C. schools. Gilbreath scored 33 points against UBC in a 109-102 loss, 30 points against Fraser Valley in a 96-87 loss, and in a 98-93 exhibition loss against NCAA Div. 2 Simon Fraser, he scored another 30 points.
To put his efforts into perspective, at 27.0 ppg, he accomplished on the floor what amounted to the second-highest scoring average by a player from a B.C. school in Canada West history. UBC’s legendary J.D. Jackson set the record in 1990-91 at 27.1 ppg.
The key in Gilbreath’s 2021-22 swansong?: The ability of the team’s secondary scorers to take advantage of what is sure to be a plethora of custom-designed junk defences.
Among the names populating the veteran end of the roster are scoring guard Riley Braich, the former Yale Secondary ace, as well as 6-foot-6 Australian import Adam Gehrig, and fifth-year Fraser Valley transfer forward Daniel Adediran (Pacific Academy).
Rising to an expected position of prominence is second-year UFV transfer guard Vlad Mihaila, the former Semiahmoo star, who will be joined by intriguing Ottawa Gee-Gees 6-foot-5 freshman transfer guard/forward Sam Dyck, and pure freshman guards Jacob Fortune (Ottawa) and Leif Skelding (Coquitlam-Centennial).
“The whole year we have tried to find ways to have fun and have competition in some capacity,” Pridie says of the anticipation level surrounding Shoot For The Cure.
“The guys are excited, and for some of them, it’s exciting for their families back home to have something to look forward to watching.”
All of the action begins Thursday afternoon. The Trinity Western women’s skills challenge schedule begins at 3:30 p.m., with the TWU men’s skills challenge beginning at 5:30 p.m.
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