LANGLEY — Two years seems like such a long time ago for Jimmy Zaborniak.
Yet there were times Friday night at the Langley Events Centre, as Burnaby South turned on their seemingly-patented late-game heroics, that it was only yesterday when both he and teammate Karan Aujla helped the Rebels top the Kelowna Owls to claim the program’ second title in three seasons.
However you measure that span, the Rebels are making a habit of winning big games seem like clockwork.
As the B.C. Quad-A Final Four opened at the LEC’s Arena Bowl complex Friday before the same kinds of rousing crowds that populated the place on the eve of the pandemic in 2020, there was the big man Aujla with his 20 points and 14 rebounds, and there was the point guard Zaborniak playing the entire 40 minutes and pouring home a game-high 29 points to hold off Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators 84-68 and earn a berth in Saturday’s championship final.
Yet holding off the Gators was no easy task, as the team which rallied from the absolute depths Thursday to top No. 1 seeded St. George’s in the quarterfinals, was looking like it was ready to do the same one night later.
Dylan Senft’s lay-in with 8:07 remaining pulled the Gators to within 62-61, yet like they have seemingly always done, the Rebels dug deep and found a way to gain separation down the stretch drive.
Two three-pointers by Armaan Hehar and another from Zaborniak were part of a 22-7 game-closing run which gives the Rebels a chance to win their third top-tiered B.C. title in four seasons of play.
“They came at us with everything, they didn’t back down,” said Rebels head coach Mike Bell of the Gators. “They knew what we were about and I thought they planned well.”
Yet as many of its foes have remarked, it’s almost as if the Rebels simply flick a switch when the stretch drive arrives.
“We kind of got a lot more disciplined with what we had tried to focus on for the whole game,” said Bell. “I thought it had lacked through most of the game and it led to their runs. We had turnovers and we played undisciplined and those are not the kinds of characteristics I want to see in my basketball team.”
Yet the surge came at just the right time against a Gators’ team which left everything on the floor.
Guard Kevin Kao led his team with 24 points while Senft added another 22 for Walnut Grove.
Afterwards, Zaborniak, who has been so instrumental in the team’s run to the finals following a month-long knee injury to Aujla, looked back on the championship he won as a Grade 10 and put it in perspective as he prepared to make the last game of his high school career his biggest.
“I always knew it would be tough, but this time, it’s different as the captain of the team,” he said. “There is more responsibility. But I have always wanted to come back, and all of this has been my dream since I was in Grade 8 watching the provincial championships.
“It’s always been my dream to win it this year,” he stressed of his senior season.
Ask him where he got his work ethic, and Zaborniak goes back to the source.
“Honestly, growing up I was always a Michael Jordan fan,” he said. “Every basketball player is.”
What about MJ particularly captured his fancy?
“He’s a dog. He always goes at people 100 per cent. Growing up I watched Michael Jordan highlights every day.”
The inspiration is noted, but there’s also another reason Zaborniak wants it so badly come Saturday night.
“Jimmy wanted to get back here last year,” coach Bell said of the cancelled 2021 championships. “Even though we won the year before, he’s wanted to get back here so badly because in his Grade 10 year he missed a couple of open lay-ups in the final.
“He’s the kind of kid who holds a grudge with things like that,” Bell added. “He was very happy for the team, but he just wasn’t happy with his individual performance, and that is that is the kind of stuff that makes a great leader. He put in so much time over the COVID season.”
And now, two years later, he and the Rebels are looking to play their best game just when it matters the most.
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