LANGLEY — There was a moment down the stretch-drive of Friday night’s B.C. AAAA boys semifinal, when you stopped and realized that everything that the Burnaby South Rebels might have represented just a few weeks ago had been so clearly tossed out the window.
Yes, the Rebels had maintained a pretty high ranking through much of the season in the B.C. Top 10, but how much stock were you willing to put on a team whose last win against a team that even qualified for this tournament was a 76-65 victory over W.J. Mouat way back on January 20th at the Abbotsford Snowball tournament?
Since that win, there were two losses to its stiffest crosstown rival, AAA Byrne Creek, including a stunning 24-point spanking on Feb. 8 in the Burnaby/New Westminster zone final.
Yet as the No. 8 seed’s miracle run has continued through this week, all the way to tonight’s 8:15 p.m. title clash against Surrey’s Semiahmoo Totems, it is astounding the number of opposition coaches who have commented how good they actually thought the Rebels were, despite the fact that they weren’t notching the quality wins to prove it.
Every piece of the puzzle was at the disposal of head coach Mike Bell, but could it all be out together in time?
Which brings us back to that so-called moment in the team’s 70-58 win over Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs on Friday night.
As the Bulldogs scrapped to find anything that might build late momentum, Burnaby South just continued to attack, and as the play developed in the half court, its 6-foot-9 Grade 10 centre Sasha Vujisic took an entry pass at one side of the low block, and in an instant of perfect chemistry, sent a touch-pass to the other side of the block which 6-foot-7 Grade 12 forward Jusuf Sehic banked home off the window.
This morning, as South alums, specifically those from the team’s last B.C. senior varsity title team in 1979, make plans to be among the spectators tonight at the Langley Events Centre, that moment holds such large significance.
And that’s because, through no fault of their own, the Rebels really never found out who they were until the very late stages of provincial qualification.
The current Grade 12 contingent didn’t even qualify for last season’s Big Dance, and the current Grade 11s were part and parcel of an amazing group under current assistant coach Cody Cormack, who won the 2017 B.C. junior championship.
And so that lay-up not only captured the plugged-in mental state of the team, but also its uniqueness as a unit, one blessed with the perfect blend of guards and wings, but also that very rare twin tower, high-low front court action.
“It feels great to get to the final because last year we didn’t even make it to provincials,” explained Sehic in the aftermath of the win, one in which he provided 15 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and six blocks. “Tonight we worked as a team. We had our struggles at the beginning of the season but now we are working like a team.”
And his connection with Vujisic?
“Sasha and me? We’re like brothers,” added Sehic of his younger teammate, already a physical force, and one who finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds against Belmont.
“Those two have a special bond,” Bell said afterwards. “They just feed off each other, and at the end of the day they are really good friends.”
On Friday it was a 10-player rotation with guards like Kyle Kirmaci, Noah Pastrana and Vince Sunga, and swing players like Baltej Sohal and Jiordano Khan completing Bell’s jigsaw.
And in the grand tradition of this tournament, they have found their true stride in the 11th hour.
“I’ve heard all about that,” said Suhic admitted Friday when asked about the last South team to both qualify for the final and win it, way back 39 years ago in 1979, “and we’re about to win it tomorrow, too.”
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