Duchess Park's standout Grade 11 Caleb Lyons led his team to a win over Walnut Grove in the opening round of the 2019 Tsumura Basketball Invitational last month at the LEC. Lyons is back this week with the rest of the Triple-A No. 2-ranked Condors of Prince George for the 2020 STMC Chancellor Invitational. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

STMC’s Chancellor 2020: With no talk of rankings allowed, PG’s No. 2-ranked Duchess Park Condors take a business trip to Burnaby

BURNABY — One week into the new year, and Jordan Yu is happy to report that the Duchess Park Condors have been resolute on their latest resolution.

“We’ve stopped talking about rankings and championships,” Yu said Tuesday afternoon from Prince George, breaking the silence for a brief second to make an important point one day ahead of his Triple-A No. 2-ranked Condors opening -round clash against the Maple Ridge Ramblers (8:45 p.m.) at the four-day, 16-team St. Thomas More Collegiate Chancellor Invitational in Burnaby.

“That’s the rule for 2020,” added Yu, whose team shone at last month’s Tsumura Basketball Invitational, and have been seeded on the opposite side of the draw from Chilliwack’s No. 1-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies at the annual classic.

The Condors enjoyed a December to remember at TBI, opening with an 83-69 win over Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators, then fashioning an 89-76 win over the then-Quad A No. 5 Holy Cross Crusaders of Surrey.

It was a victory which allowed Duchess Park the rare opportunity to play two of B.C.’s elite teams in back-to-back games.

And while Duchess Park lost 83-67 in the Final Four to current No. 1 Centennial, and later fell 81-63 to current No. 3 Burnaby South in the third-place game, Yu never questioned the incredible learning curve his team would undergo in those contests.

Now, coming into Chancellor 2020, which features five of the current B.C. Top 10 at Triple A, it’s an opportunity to show the growth his team underwent any TBI by playing four programs who in just the last handful of seasons, have all reached at least the Final Four at B.C. Quad-A tournament.

(Click here for the full tournament draw)

“Those games were huge for us, especially Centennial and Burnaby South, where we got to play two completely different types of teams,” said Yu.

Against Coquitlam’s Centaurs, Yu said his group relished the opportunity to test its front court and to try to match up against a presence as special as Centennial’s tourney MVP Dom Parolin.

And against Burnaby South, a team playing with rising big man Karan Aujla, but at the time without injured senior forward Sasha Vujisic, the opportunity arose to try and cope against a cache of guards deeper than perhaps anyone in the province and led by standout Grade 11 Justin Sunga.

“Just seeing our posts match up with someone like (Parolin) was huge,” said Yu. “We did pretty well but then we did run into problems in the second half. Then against Burnaby South, their young post did hurt us, but it was such a great chance for us to face such crafty guards and try to handle their quickness.”

A fine pair in the backcourt for Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors are Jackson Kuc and Tanner Cruz (left). (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Of course the Condors will present all kinds of problems for the rest of the Chancellor field this week.

Senior off guard Jackson Kuc has stepped up to become one of the tier’s most dependable scorers and teams in the back court with Grade 11 point guard Tanner Cruz.

Up front, Grade 11 swingman Caleb Lyons, and senior forwards Connor Lewis and Tony Zejnulahovic round out a well-balanced starting five.

Zejnulahovic’s twin brother, 6-foot-4 Emir, along with rising Grade 10 guard Cole Laing, the younger brother of UNBC scoring whiz Tyrell Laing, are vital cogs in a rotation which also includes Grade 10 guard Aidan Lewis, and Grade 11 forwards Aedan Aksenchuk and Logan Schlick.

The Condors will stay home on subsequent weekends for tournaments at D.P. Todd and College Heights, then venture to Edmonton to take part in the Harry Ainlay Titans invitational Feb. 12-16.

That means the Chancellor is its final trip south before the start of provincials.

“That’s why we’ve stopped talking about it,” Yu says of the rankings. “From here on out, it’s just about the process of games and practices. We just want to get one per cent better every day.”

With 57 more days to go before the start of provincials, if the Condors improve as they hope and meet a goal of once again qualifying for the Big Dance, they’re going to be a pretty tough team to handle.

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.

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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