G.W. Graham senior forward Zach Klim leads the Triple A No. 1-ranked Grizzlies in both scoring and rebounding heading into the 2020 Chancellor Invitational beginning Wednesday at Burnaby's St. Thomas More Collegiate. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

STMC’s Chancellor 2020: No. 1-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies arrive following blueprint of defending champion North Delta Huskies

CHILLIWACK — As the St. Thomas More Chancellor Invitational gets set to tip off Wednesday in Burnaby, B.C.’s No. 1-ranked Triple-A team is following what it hopes is a winning recipe.

“We have the best losing record in the province,” joked G.W. Graham Grizzlies head coach Jake Mouritzen, whose Chilliwack-based school is actually sitting at 8-8 overall.

“In all honesty though, we haven’t lost to anyone at Double-A or Triple-A, and when I was putting our schedule together, I looked at what North Delta did last year and asked myself how we could try to duplicate what they did last season,” Mouritzen added.

The Huskies opened last season against a slew of ranked Quad-A teams, then came to the Chancellor and promptly won the gruelling four-day, 16-team event, before laying to rest any notion that the tourney carried a provincial tournament hex by winning the B.C. title two months later at the Langley Events Centre.

The Grizz?

They actually opened the season with a two-point loss to current Quad-A No. 2 Kelowna in the opening game of the Kodiak Classic in late November, all a part of a 1-6 start to the season.

They have since rallied to get to .500, however all eight of their losses have come against either ranked or honourable-mention Quad-A opposition.

And of those eight losses, the Grizzlies have fallen by under double-digits to Kelowna, honourable mention Lord Tweedsmuir twice, No. 6 Vancouver College and honourable mention Fleetwood Park. 

G.W. Graham has also lost to No. 1 Centennial, No. 7 Holy Cross and honourable mention Terry Fox at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.

Its quality wins this season include beating honourable mention Quad-A Belmont 73-66 in its TBI opener, and then beating preseason Triple A No. 1 Vernon 67-64 in the championship final of its own Grizzlies Classic on Dec. 14.

“In past seasons, we’ve peaked in December and allowed everyone else to catch up,” observed Mouritzen of his team, which last season lost 72-64 to Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors in the quarterfinal round at the provincial tournament.

“But in a couple of our losses (at TBI), we were in battles into the late third quarter, and early fourth, so the hope is that we got in some March games before Christmas. Now, we can settle into our New Year schedule at the Chancellor, and then at Bateman (Jan. 30-Feb. 1). We wanted to play the best early, and if you compare our November-December schedule to North Delta’s last year, it’s almost identical.”

G.W. Graham point guard Clay Kurtz, the only non-senior in the Grizzlies’ starting five, drive past Belmont’s Hunter Thompson during round one win last month at TBI 2019 in Langley. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

And while the Grizz don’t have a superstar of the same vintage as the Huskies’ Suraj Gahir, the eventual tourney MVP, who begins his freshman career at NCAA Div. 1 Cal Baptist next season, they have an exciting core of starters who bring balance from the back court to the front court.

Leading the way in the paint are twin seniors Zach (6-foot-9) and Matthias Klim (6-foot-10), who team with fellow Grade 12 small forward Jude Hall.

Zach Klim leads the Grizzlies in both scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (13.8 rpg), while Hall (13.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.6 apg) is a true glue player, energizing the team in so many different ways.

Interestingly enough, all three are considered baseball-first dual-sport athletes, with Hall tabbed as one of the country’s top young prospects. All three helped the powerhouse Chilliwack Cougars to the provincial championship title this past summer.

“Up until early October, we were still deciding whether or not Jude would play basketball this season,” admitted Mouritzen. “He has been down south at so many (baseball) camps, so he has slowly transitioned into basketball.”

The back court is also in steady hands, with a pair of starters seemingly equally adept at playing both point guard and shooting guard roles.

Grade 11 Clay Kurtz has settled into the actual point guard role while senior Cairo Almarez has played opposite him.

Almarez has averaged 14.8 ppg this season, as well as a healthy 5.6 assists per contest. Yet there is no mistaking his love of the three. He’s gone 60-of-168 over the Grizzlies’ first 16 games of the season.

“We tell Clay to shoot it more himself,” laughs Mouritzen of Kurtz, who is 12-for-21 from distance. “But any time he can, he tries to get the ball to Cairo.”

The Chancellor runs all day at St. Thomas More Collegiate with Wednesday’s epic eight-game Sweet 16 round running with main court games beginning at 8:30 a.m. The final game of the day tips off at 8:45 p.m. Click here for the full schedule of games.

The host Knights play Burnaby Mountain in a 12 noon tip. The Grizzlies face Steveston London at 5:15 p.m. The No. 2-ranked Duchess Park Condors of Prince George face Maple Ridge in the 8:45 p.m. finale. Both the Condors and Grizzlies are positioned on opposite sides of the draw.

Thursday’s quarterfinals run at 3:30, 5:15, 7 and 8:45 p.m. Friday’s semifinals are slated for 7 and 8:45 p.m., with Saturday’s title tilt beginning at 6 p.m.

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