VANCOUVER — For everything the B.C. high school sports world has endured over the past number of seasons, there is once again, thankfully, that feeling of normalcy… something that comes with the first fully-unencumbered regular-season of basketball since 2019-20.
It’s made the simple act of moving from league contests to those of the post-season variety something to truly appreciate for those who have made loving the game such a big part of their lives.
“I heard a crazy expression the other day,” Lord Byng Grey Ghosts senior boys basketball head coach Kevin Sandher said Monday morning when I asked him about his team’s season thus far. “It was all about having kids, and it said ‘The days are long but the years go quick.’ I loved that one. I wrote that one down.”
Sandher has a family of his own, but as any high school basketball coach will tell you, at this time of the year, they’ve also got a second one in the team they are taking out onto the floor for practices and games.
For the B.C. Triple-A No. 5-ranked Grey Ghosts, that part of the journey begins Tuesday as it hosts the four-day Vancouver City Triple-A/Double-A championship tournament in its ageless, classic and re-furbished gymnasium. Byng opens play at 2:15 p.m. against the Gladstone Gladiators.
“I see these guys more than my kids in January and February,” began Sandher, who, in the true spirit of his quote, suddenly finds himself in his 10th season leading the program.
Guiding a team composed entirely of Grade 11 players to a 22-6 overall record, Lord Byng is coming off a 101-73 loss to crosstown St. Patrick’s in the championship final of the Rick Hansen Hurricanes Invitational on Saturday in Abbotsford.
“Because we are around each other so much, it can become difficult if you don’t work to create that family atmosphere,” continued Sandher. “Like this past weekend at the tournament. On the Saturday we hung out all day, and we do that a lot through the season.
“The X’s and O’s… that stuff evolves, but it’s the relationship-building process with the students that keeps them motivated throughout this process.”
For Lord Byng, this past week included welcoming back the team’s starting point guard from injury for what is now the final-month stretch drive to the B.C. finals at the Langley Events Centre.
“We actually had two significant injuries to deal with in January,” explained Sandher, who lost both Eli Mullin (wrist) and 6-foot-5 post Sebastian Minns (thumb) in the same Jan. 6 game, a 64-57 loss to the host school in the final of the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldog Classic.
Mullin broke the wrist of his non-shooting hand, and his return this weekend in Abbotsford helped the team rally from a 33-7 deficit midway through the quarterfinals against Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats before somehow prevailing 68-60.
“We didn’t have those two back for about a three-week stretch, but somehow we managed to keep our heads afloat,” said Sandher of a team which a season ago, won the Vancouver City JV title and were a top four seed at junior provincials.
“It forced us to play the bench more, and some of those guys got way more minutes, which I think in the long run is going to help us,” he continued. “But the other part is, last year these guys didn’t get tournaments in January, just their league tournament. We warned them about the grind of senior boys basketball, with two league games a week and then a tournament every weekend. It really gave them an appreciation of what it takes to be a Top 10 team in terms of taking care of your body and taking care of your academics.”
Triple A No. 10 Sir Charles Tupper, which was preparing to host the city championships until gremlins appeared in its scoreboard, along with Double-A No. 2 King George, enter the event as its No. 2 and 1 respective seeds.
The top four finishing Triple-A teams advance to the eight-team Vancouver Sea-to-Sky zone championships, while the fifth-place team tips-off against North Shore No. 3 for the final berth.
As well, the top Double-A finisher proceeds to its VSS zone championship tournament while the No. 2 finisher faces the No. 5 team from the North Shore for a back-door spot.
With Lord Byng’s health returning and its biggest games still ahead, Sandher appreciates the depth of the 2022-23 team, and in particular one defining characteristic.
“What I have said all along about this team.. and I love this,” he says, “is that there is not just one guy. Every tournament we enter, we seem to have different all-stars, and that has included our sixth man.”
Indeed, Mullin’s return comes as that sixth man — forward Isaac Dance — has morphed into a much more confident and consistent force.
“We don’t have much of a drop-off between Dylan King (a 6-foot-4 forward leading the team at 18 ppg) all the way to Isaac, who is averaging just over 10 points.”
Others have included the likes of Marko Radic, now one of the top three-point shooters on the team, big man Minns averaging nine points and 10 rebounds, and Jeffrey Brown, the former sixth man who may return to that original role, but who has shown the ability to prosper by whatever means he has been deployed.
For the Grey Ghosts, these past seven seasons have been among one the program’s best in terms of extended success.
In fact, Sandher sees a lot of similarities between this team and his 2015-16 team, not the least of which is the fact that team’s roster was also heavily comprised of Grade 11 talent.
Including the likes of star 6-foot-7 forward Nathan Bromige, that team went on to fashion back-to-back fifth-place finishes in both ’16 and ’17.
“And so at Christmas time, Nathan’s team came in for an alumni game,” continued Sandher. “I had some of them speak to my guys about how quickly these two years (at senior varsity) can go by, and that they need to enjoy every moment, while still working hard.”
One month from today, it’ll be just two sleeps before Day 1 of the boys championships tip off.
It’s just like that quote Kevin Sandher was so quick to scribble down and commit to memory: “The days are long but the years go quick.”
It’s so true, and it’s the best reason to savour every moment along the road to March Madness at the LEC.
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