Semiahmoo's Marcus Flores (12) and Andre Juco (11) are part of the Quad-A No. 1-ranked Thunderbirds' team which will face Eastside Catholic on Dec. 9 during TBI week at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2022. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

Quad-A No. 1 Semiahmoo brings Seattle-area’s Eastside Catholic Crusaders and top prospect Cofie to the LEC! 35 years after Richmond-DeMatha, the B.C.-U.S. tradition continues!

LANGLEY TOWNSHIP — The players on B.C.’s No. 1-ranked senior boys Quad-A basketball team likely aren’t aware of it, but when South Surrey’s Semiamoo Thunderbirds take to the court later next month at the Langley Events Centre, they’ll be paying a bit of a tribute to one of this province’s pioneering programs: The 1980’s-era Richmond Colts.

On Dec. 9, in a 7:30 p.m. exhibition game to be played at the LEC’s Centre Court during the span, but outside of the main draw of the annual boys Tsumura Basketball Invitational, the Thunderbirds will oppose Eastside Catholic of Sammamish (WA).

The Crusaders feature the versatile 6-foot-9 forward Jacob Cofie, a Grade 11 four-star prospect who has already been offered by a host of major Div. 1 programs including Ohio State, Washington, Washington State, UNLV and Colorado.

The game comes 10 days shy of the 35th anniversary of the classic 1987 contest staged at a sold-out War Memorial Gym on the campus of UBC between the Bill Disbrow-coached Colts and Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic.

That game, won 98-84 by the visiting USA Today No. 5-ranked Stags and future New York Knicks first-round draft pick Jerod Mustaf after a late second-half surge, has grown in stature to the point where it is seen, over a generation-plus later, as a modern-day starting point within a belief system that B.C. players could compete with the best in the U.S. high school system.

“Even back early 90’s when I played there was still quite a big separation and we would kind of be in awe,” admitted Semiahmoo’s first-year head coach Les Brown, who besides playing under Disbrow at Richmond as part of its Class of ’93 and later succeeding him as head coach, served a four-year stint as assistant coach under Kevin Hanson with the UBC Thunderbirds.

“Nowadays, with all the club basketball the kids are playing, I think we are right there with our skill and talent level,” continued Brown, who missed out on the DeMatha game as a sixth-grader, but a year after his own high school graduation in 1994 watched as the Colts hosted New Jersey’s famed St. Anthony’s Friars, coached by Bob Hurley Sr.

“But the (U.S. teams) might be deeper. I would say that our top three are just as talented…  right there with their top three. But go to their, say eight-through-10, and they are probably still as strong.”

Semiahmoo guard Torian Lee (right) turned in a 15-point, five-assist performance during the B.C. senior boys Quad-A basketball championship opening round last March at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Blair Shier property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2022. All Rights Reserved)

However you want to slice it, Semiahmoo’s top three players are very good, and two of them — like Cofie — are Grade 11s.

Who can forget the way Semiahmoo stormed its way to last season’s top-tiered final before falling 72-57 to the dynastic Burnaby South Rebels, taking out along the way No. 2 Centennial 86-73 in the quarterfinals behind 32 points from then-Grade 10 guard Torian Lee, and then No. 3 Vancouver College 93-91 on the shoulders of then-Grade 10 forward Cole Bekkering in the semifinals.

Lee, although hampered by an ill-timed ankle injury which was threatening his participation in Tuesday’s season-opening clash against visiting, Triple-A No. 1 St. Patrick’s Celtics, along with Bekkering, are two of the team’s big three.

As well, there is also Marcus Flores, the 6-foot-7 senior.

That trio along with the likes of senior guard types Maddox Budiman and Andre Juco, and a pair of Grade 11s in guard Jodhan Waraich and forward Jack Clayton are among the team’s main rotation as the season begins.

In the weeks following last season’s journey to the B.C. final, longtime head coach Ed Lefurgy, who had also guided the Thunderbirds to the 2018 B.C. final, elected to step away from the program.

Thus Brown slid over one spot on the bench into the head coach’s seat and will now attempt to navigate the tricky task — along with fellow coaches Rory Brown (Steveston), Riley Barker (WRCA) and Johnson Hu (Semiahmoo)– of winning on the championship side of the draw on the final Saturday of the season this March.

“I am just trying to keep them hungry, happy and healthy,” said Brown of his players. “These boys just stepped up (at B.C.’s) and it was remarkable to watch, and it just goes back to the time they put in and just really focussed on their craft. They understood the game plan and they were confident with their ability.

“Right now we are struggling to get 10 on the floor to practice, so that’s been challenging. But I want to keep them excited… excited for the moment.”

And although Semiahmoo isn’t exactly paying tribute to the glory days of Colts’ basketball by bringing in Eastside Catholic, it’s at the very least an appreciative homage.

Rising for a block on Vancouver College’s Mikey Jospeh is Marcus Flores of the Semiahmoo Thunderbirds during the B.C. senior boys Quad-A basketball championship Final Four semifinal round last March at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Back before he had decided to leave the program he built and later took to B.C. finals in 2018 and 2021, Lefurgy couldn’t help but express the pride he had in making the Eastside Catholic game the shining light of what will be a very challenging 2022-23 schedule.

I asked him back then if he thought at all about the way those old Richmond teams scheduled tough and never hesitated to try and bring the best teams from the U.S. up here to the Greater Vancouver area.

“That’s why I did it,” Lefurgy told me back in the spring of an idea which sprung from the constant conversations he and Disbrow would have about what they felt were some of  the most important aspects of team building.

“I’d be sitting around, chatting with Bill, and I would talk to him about how I wanted this team to be great,” continued Lefurgy. “If you want your team to be great you have to have a great schedule, and I think we have one of the toughest ones a B.C. team has had in a long time.

“You want to challenge your team,” he added. “That is what Disbrow told me years ago. He told me that you have to keep them interested. What’s going to bring them back? What’s the new challenge?”

This season, it’s a schedule which will never back down from asking them all an unrelenting question: How many games will you play at your very best?

GAME NOTES — The Dec. 9 game between Semiahmoo and Eastside Catholic is not being played as an official part of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.

As such, it can be watched live at a cost of $12 for adults, $8 for youth, and free for ages five and under. The game can also be live-streamed at TFSE TV for a cost of $6US.

That game will cap off an exciting Friday of action at the LEC. The boys TBI semifinals for the 16-team draw will be played at 3:30 and 5 p.m. As well, the two eight-team draws will start the day at 10:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. with their respective championship finals. All five of those games will be a part of the action at the LEC’s Centre Court.

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