LANGLEY — If you happened to catch Ripley Martin with his teammates at the recent Legal Beagle Invitational at Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Secondary, just one look at his face would have told you that battle scars are all a part of the journey when your goal is to return to the B.C. AAA championship final.
In lieu of wrapping his entire head in a big white bandage, a smaller dressing is covering a cut near his swollen right eye socket.
And the sweat he is expending by putting his near 6-foot-10 frame through its paces en route to an eventual 69-47 win over the Vancouver College Fighting Irish is especially relevant, considering the misfortune he has endured ever since rolling his ankle in the preseason and having to miss first six weeks of his senior season.
“I got elbowed right in the eye in our game against Mouat,” he begins of a 57-55 loss to the AAAA Fraser Valley power in the opening round of the tournament. “The way I look at it, I need more experiences like that to help push me through games, so you could say that it was a wake-up call for me.”
Yet that hasn’t been the toughest part of the 2017-18 season for South Kamloops, who on Thursday will engage in a battle of the Titans when they tip-off against the Edmonton’s moniker-matching Harry Ainlay at Kelowna’s Western Canada Invitational.
For the team that came up just short against Abbotsford’s Rick Hansen Hurricanes in last season’s B.C. Triple A championship final, it’s been about bringing back the same level of familiarity to their entire team schematic following the loss of one of B.C.’s best big men for the first half of the season.
“I got hurt back in the middle of November during gym class,” Martin says sheepishly, wanting to provide a more dramatic story to an injury which had tremendous staying power. “We were playing indoor soccer. It turned out to be real bad but at the time, all the coaches were just laughing.”
By mid-January at the Beagle, Martin had precisely one game under belt when he came to PoCo, and that lack of fitness hurt infinitely more than the welt over his eye.
“Those were his first games back and he improved over each one,” said South Kamloops head coach Tim Unaegbu of Martin, who has garnered interest from several B.C. universities to continue his playing career next season. “Yes, you can see the fatigue factor, but you can also see, even though he wasn’t able to run very hard at the start, that he’s a game-changer just by his presence.”
And thus as the calendar is set to turn to February, all of B.C.’s contending teams take broad stock of their rosters and begin to fine tune what needs to be tweaked in advance of league and zone tournament play.
South Kamloops’ situation is a fascinating one because, in a sense, its season has had two halves with pre- and post-Ripley segments.
At the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, the Titans rolled into town with both guard Evan Jumaga and Martin sitting on the bench with injuries.
“In one sense it was unfortunate,” says Unaegbu, “but in another it was a positive because some of the other guys got some really good minutes.”
But that’s not to say South Kam is hurting for talent even without that pair. Reid Jansen, Nick Sarai and brothers Josh and Sam Jean are among those who kept the Titans vital while the injured nursed themselves back into the line-up.
Now, it’s Martin that needs to continue his course of gaining full fitness in time for his team to make noise in March.
“I’ve felt like throwing up after every game,” he said of his immersion back into the lineup in January. “It’s non-stop sweating and it’s not a lot of fun. But we’re playing tough teams and that will get us ready for provincials. We just have to keep working. I feel like the chemistry is already there.”
On the season, Martin is averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals per game.
He was tremendous at the Beagle in pouring home 26 points as South Kamloops gained a signature win over Vancouver College.
Yet last weekend, in the semifinals of the Bateman tournament, the Titans went head-to-head with Rick Hansen in a rematch of the 2017 B.C. final.
Just to show that nothing is ever guaranteed, the Hurricanes hit a jump shot at the buzzer to stun South Kamloops 77-76. It knocked the Titans out of No. 1 in the most recent rankings, putting them at No. 3 behind No. 1 Byrne Creek and No. 2 Rick Hansen.
After the loss, however, Unaegbu got a text on his phone from Martin.
“He wanted to tell me just how much he’s all in,” the coach said. “He’s finally getting his lungs back and he’s ready to help us make a title run.”
All four tiers of B.C. senior boys high school basketball will chase the grand prize March 7-10 at the Langley Events Centre.
For more information about that event, as well as the entire run of provincial tournaments set to tip off Feb. 24, follow the links at varsityletters.ca
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