NORTH DELTA — They have played against each only one time, and yet as each counts down to Saturday, the final day of their respective high school basketball careers, maybe it’s no surprise that they have already formed a mutual admiration society.
Off the court, Oak Bay’s Diego Maffia and North Delta’s Suraj Gahir showed themselves to be understated and thoughtful basketball souls.
On the court, they were the equivalent of classically-trained musicians, each so fundamentally skilled, yet each so virtuosic in their ability that over the course of this past season, they seemed to take turns dropping the collective jaws of the provincial fan base.
From Maffia’s otherworldly B.C. single-game record 96-point performance to Gahir’s clutch, last-second rainbow three-point winner in the provincial AAA semifinals, they were the driving force behind some of the 2018-19 season’s most compelling storylines.
Now, on the final day of their high school careers, they will face each other for just the second time, as a part of Saturday’s B.C. high school all-star weekend festivities at Surrey’s Semiahmoo Secondary.
Maffia will suit up for the B.C. Quad A all-stars as they oppose their Triple A counterparts, including a hobbled Gahir, whose sore ankle may well restrict him to a much smaller role that he would have liked. Tip-off time for the featured finale is 7:30 p.m. The Single A vs. Double A game tips off at 5 p.m.
Their only previous meeting came in the opening round of the 2017 Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
Earlier this week, as Varsity Letters reached out to the pair individually, it was immediately apparent how much of a shared respect exists between two of our game’s finest, each of whom averaged over 30 points-per-game this season.
“Definitely, he’s such a great scorer,” began Gahir. “Ninety-six points? Not many can do that. This year, I really wanted to play against him but we just never got the chance. I’ve talked with him in the past. He’s a nice guy.
“The one thing, though, that everyone seems to ask is ‘Suraj or Diego, who is better?’ But in the end I think we’re both good players. It’s doesn’t have to be all about who is the best.”
Adds Maffia: “We’ve talked and we admire each other’s game. Being in two different tiers was kind of not great in terms of being able to play against each other, but with his ability to score, and the great two-way player that he is, he’s going to be a great addition to any (post-secondary) team he plays for.”
For the record, each was a Grade 11 player when Oak Bay met North Delta on Dec. 7 of 2017 in the first rounbd of the TBI.
Maffia scored a game-high 23 points that day as the Bays cruised past North Delta 94-48. Gahir scored 18 points to lead the Huskies.
And while they didn’t primarily guard each other in that game, each has a great scouting report on the other.
“You can’t step an inch off of him or he will shoot it,” begins Gahir of the Victoria Vikes’ prize recruit. “And he’s got such a quick first step that if you (guard him) too close, he will just go by you. And he loves that floater, even against the big guys. It’s nice off glass.”
Adds Maffia of Gahir, well aware of the intangible ability the Triple A MVP showed in big moments at the provincials: “As some say, he’s got the whole package. There’s the way he is able to shoot the ball. He’s so long. And, he’s clutch in clutch situations. He’s got everything to play at the next level.”
The only damper on the festivities is, of course, Gahir’s compromised ability to get on the floor for anything resembling extended minutes.
“It would have been (healed) but I played on it at provincials so my doctor has told me that my recovery has been pushed back,” said Gahir of his ankle. “I’ll be on the sidelines but I might only play a minute here or there.”
Either way, the symbolism of the moment won’t be lost.
It will be impossible to look back on a 2018-19 season filled with incredible memories without thinking about two classy young student-athletes, both among the best we’ve seen , who did everything the right way.
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