LANGLEY — Welcome to Final Four Friday here at the Langley Events Centre.
To the best of our ability’s the Varsity Letters team will attempt to provide live game reports on each of the two B.C. semifinal games being played tonight at this tier.
Timing will all depend on our writing, photographic and broadcasting demands this evening, so please keep checking back. As well, your patience is appreciated!
Yours in basketball: Howard
STORIES BY GARY KINGSTON (Special for Varsity Letters)
N0. 2 KING DAVID LIONS 85 NO. 3 ABERDEEN HALL GRYPHONS 68
LANGLEY – Revenge was sweet Friday for Vancouver’s King David Lions.
The cherry on top of the retribution sundae was a berth in the B.C. senior boys basketball Single A championship game, a first for the school and a deserving reward for head coach David Amram in his 18th season as the school’s bench boss.
A year ago, the Lions were upset by Kelowna’s Aberdeen Hall Gryphons in the opening round of the provincials. But the No. 2 see Lions would not be denied in Friday’s semifinal as they rode a strong second-half rebounding advantage, some sharp shooting and daring penetration from point guard Ezra Heayie and inside scoring from Arel Steen to an 85-68 victory.
“It feels great, said Heayie, who had 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and five assists. “We finally got a chance to play them again and this time we had our full team. We executed and stuck to the game plan and got the W.”
Steen scored a team-high 24 points and six-foot-four centre Joseph Gabay, who was almost invisible in the first half with just two points and two rebounds, finished with a game high 14 boards and six points.
The one unfortunate part of the Lions trip to the final is that as a pluralistic Jewish school, the players are required by their faith to honor the hours between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday as their Sabbath. Sports, as with many other activities, are not played during those most sacred hours.
That means the Lions won’t be able to enjoy the spotlight of the scheduled 1 p.m. start in the Arena Bowl at Langley Events Centre. To accommodate King David, the game will be moved to 8:30 p.m. in one of the LEC’s satellite courts and be played at the same time as the Quad A final.
“It doesn’t really change anything,” insisted Heayie. “What gym we play in doesn’t make a difference. It’s the same calibre level of game. We still have to go out there and handle business and get a provincial banner.”
Amram had a different take, wishing his players could perform on the biggest stage at provincials in front of the most fans possible.
“I’m not happy about it, but I don’t worry about that stuff. That’s the (tournament) committee’s job. So, wrong court, but at least we got the game and we’ll be able to have our fans.”
And Amram was more than delighted to finally steer the school into the Single A final.
“It feels incredible. It’s a reward for all the hard work, the morning practices, the late practices, the traveling.”
With King David having trouble solving the Gryphons 1-3-1 zone defence early on, Aberdeen Hall led 17-16 after the first quarter.
But the Gryphons went ice cold for a 10-minute stretch over the second and third quarters. And Lions finally figured out a way to get Steen some easy baskets inside and and along the baseline and then got a couple of huge three-pointers each from Heayie and five-foot-seven Grade 10 Paul Zychlinksi to take a 44-28 lead at half time.
“It was not me, it was everyone setting me up,” said Steen of the ease in which he got to the rim. “I didn’t have to do much. It was a team effort.
The Gryphons got the lead down to 11 once in the third quarter and to 10 once in the fourth quarter. But the resilient and determine Lions kept responding with little mini-runs to keep control of the game.
“I don’t think anyone got nervous,” said Steen. “We had some bad turnovers in there, but the guys never stopped working. Five seconds (of dwelling on it) and we’re right back at it.”
Aberdeen Hall was led by the 31 points and five steals of Kyler Assam. Andrew Isa had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Soren Crum chipped in with 11 points.
“We gave a good fight,” said Assam. “Every guy out there really gave everything he could out on the court. And that’s all you can hope for in a game like this. But tough loss, yeah.”
King David is likely to face two-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Unity Christian of Chilliwack in the final. The Flames were leading Nanaimo Christian 55-31 at halftime of their semifinal.
“We saw them in the regular season, lost by seven,” said Amram. “We played well, but didn’t play to our potential. It’s going to be a slobber-knocker in the final.”
He’s counting on the continued poise and leadership of Gabay, his Grade 12 captain, and the mercurial Heayie repeating his semifinal heroics.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” said Amram. “The truth is – he’s in Grade 12 but he skipped a year so he’s one year behind – his immaturity sometimes shows on the court. What he doesn’t realize is that yes, he does score, but when he gets assists and steals, it makes the players around him better.”
That clearly happened Friday. But the long and lanky Unity Christian squad will present a far tougher challenge.
NO. 1 UNITY CHRISTIAN FLAMES 100 NO. 4 NANAIMO CHRISTIAN TRAIL BLAZERS 67
LANGLEY – The powerful Orange Crush harkened back to their childhood trike-riding days this week. Much to the chagrin of Unity Christian Flames head coach David Bron.
The senior boys on on his orange-uniformed basketball team from Chilliwack decided to adorn the coach’s three-wheeled KneeRover (his right foot is in a boot after he injured it playing basketball himself last Sunday) with bright orange streamers dangling off the handlebars.
“They put ‘em on (Thursday),” said a laughing Bron after his squad easily advanced to the Single A final against King David Lions with a 100-67 blowout of Nanaimo Christian in the late semifinal.
“I would not put those on, but they zip-tied them, so (they stay).”
The No. 1 seed Flames could afford to be loose after they rolled over three consecutive opponents en route to their third consecutive Single A final.
Unity Christian won in 2020 and again in 2022. There was no provincial tournament in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The last school to win three consecutive Single A titles was St. Thomas Aquinas from 1992-94.
The Flames dominate with a 15-man roster that includes a plethora of long and lanky guard/forwards who choke off lanes, contest shots with active hands and who can all dribble the ball. Fourteen of the 15 are six-feet or taller with starters Daxton Vander Kooi (six-four), Ethan Vrolyk (six-six), Seth Schururman (six-three) and Jay Smiens (six-two) forming a challenging quarter for any opponent.
“Yeah, we grow ‘em tall out in Chilliwack,” said Bron.
Still, Nanaimo Christian jumped out to a surprising 9-0 lead before the Flames found their footing.
“Our game plan was to play fast and sometimes when you play fast, you give up some things,” said Bron. “Weren’t (the Trail Blazers) three-for-three (to start). I’m just thinking, hopefully they don’t do that the whole game.
“Once we got a score, we got our press on and then the momentum shifted.”
Unity led 26-16 after one quarter and 55-31 at the half.
Vander Kooi was named player of the game after scoring 18 points with 14 rebounds, two assists and three steals. As usual, it was a very balanced score sheet for the Flames, with Schuurman and Smiens each scoring 19 and five-foot-10 Grade 12 guard Ryun Fukomoto coming off the bench to score all 12 of his points in the second half.
Jackson Tonsi led Nanaimo Christian with 26 points, while six–foot-nine Calvin Vernderkooi had 19.
“We’ve been working so hard and it feels so good to be working with these boys,” said Unity’s Vander Kooi, a Grade 12. “I’m looking forward to (the final).
“Coach Bron has definitely been working us hard, getting us to stay focused.”
Vander Kooi said he’s a little disappointed that the Single A final is going to be relegated to the South Court at the Langley Events Centre and 8:30 p.m. start because of the fact that King David, a pluralistic Jewish school, can’t play between sundown Friday and Sundown Saturday.
“Obviously, we want to play in the (Arena) Bowl, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. We’re just happy to be in the final.”
The Flames and Lions have met once before this season, with Unity Christian winning by six at King David.
Told that Lions head coach David Amram expects it to be a “slobberknocker,” Bron didn’t disagree.
“He’s probably right. I think it was fairly physical the last time we played them. And It’ll be a bit of a chess match.
“We’re going to have to adjust and I’m sure they’re going to make some adjustments. We know players’ tendencies, that kind of thing. It’s going to come down to who hits shots and who executes their game play more. I like our chances.”
Bron also said he’s OK with the game being moved to an evening start at a satellite gym at the same time as the Quad A final,
“We all come from different world views, that kind of thing, so I’m happy to support that. If we’re winners (Saturday), we’ll not care where we played.”
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