NORTH DELTA — No one can escape a future full of unknowns, especially these days, but the best way to brace for its inevitable challenges as you set out on a journey is to gain strength from the collective embrace of the neighbourhood which helped define you.
For North Delta Secondary’s 2019 grad Suraj Gahir, such sentiments are more than mere lip service.
In fact, spend any amount of time chatting up the immensely-talented, 6-foot-5 guard-wing, who is set to open his NCAA Div. 1 basketball career this fall in the Western Athletic Conference, and it becomes pretty clear that his return home from a season of prep school hoops in Calgary has done nothing but reinforce his notion that home is were the heart is, particularly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I feel that when athletes are going away for school, they don’t do enough stuff as far as staying connected to their community, their friends… and (my neighbourhood) is something I have always considered to have been a privilege for me.”
And by ‘privilege’, Gahir is speaking to the outreach and support it has provided him throughout his basketball career, and especially since March, when the virus forced an end to his season at The Edge preparatory school in Calgary and re-located his training base to his old high school and club basketball community.
“It’s something I will never take for granted,” said Gahir, the MVP of the Huskies’ 2019 run to the B.C. senior boys Triple-A title, who later next month leaves for the Riverside, CA., campus of Cal Baptist University, joining former Langley-Walnut Grove star guard Ty Rowell with a Lancers team set to compete in its third season in the WAC. “Without my family and friends behind me, I know I wouldn’t be in the spot I am.”
Upon his return to North Delta, Gahir called on his old friend Gaurav Bassi, a personal trainer who runs a company called Just Hustle, and now six weeks along, there is a defined difference in not only Gahir’s physical presence, but in his overall confidence as well.
“We’ve been best friends since kindergarten and he’s helped me gain 16 pounds,” said Gahir, who while engrossed in a full lifting program for the first time in life this past season at The Edge, got fitter but also lighter amidst the blur of classes, practices and games all over North America.
Now, the kid who weighed 160 pounds in the 10th grade is pushing 188 pounds, and the density of that weight is defined by a level of musculature Gahir has never before sported.
“I had to get used to weight training (at The Edge) and the intensity of it was wearing my body down, so when I came back from prep school, I had lost weight,” he continued with a tone of irony.
“Now. it’s been a month-and-a-half since we started the program,” he continued of working with Bassi. “The first four weeks were strength training, but ever since, we’ve added in stuff for explosiveness.”
That’s music to the ears of North Delta coaches Jesse Hundal, Bill Edwards and Gary Sandhu, who last saw Gahir as the catalyst of the 2019 title run, carrying the Huskies to a one-point Final Four win over Duchess Park and a two-point title-tilt triumph over Vernon.
And for Pasha Bains, who coached Gahir on the AAU circuit for many years with Drive Basketball, the strength factor goes a long ways towards addressing the No. 1 goal he took into the season which spanned the end of his high school career and the start of his collegiate one.
“His main focus was getting stronger and more flexible, and you could see (at the end his high school career) that he still had a lot of room to grow into his body,” said Bains. “He had to spend a year learning how to lift properly.”
Added strength and explosiveness give Gahir his best chance to enter the Lancers program leading with the same overall skill package that was his strength coming out of high school. With the Huskies, he literally saw time at all five positions on the floor. At Cal Baptist, he could potentially play at three, and perhaps in a pinch, four different spots floor.
“Cal Baptist recruited him as a kind of Swiss army knife,” said Bains, figuratively comparing Gahir with an instrument that has become the gold-standard term for versatility. “You need those kinds of guys at Div. 1 because not everyone can pass, dribble and shoot.”
Bassi has connected with the Cal Baptist training staff to insure Gahir will be ready when sneaker soles hit hardwood.
In the meantime, Gahir’s leaning on another old friend as a means to help grow his game during the pandemic.
“I’d been helping as a coach at some Drive camps and I got to talking with this guy about his son,” said Gahir of Jivi Hare, whose son Jordan still plays within the Drive academy.
“We talked a lot and became friends, and Jivi has a full court in his back yard,” Gahir says. “He told me ‘Whenever you need, come.’”
That, in addition to his own backyard mini court, workouts under Bassi, and running the hills of his old North Delta neighbourhood, should have Gahir in shape when he reports to Cal Baptist in mid-July to begin hopeful preparations for the 2020-21 campaign.
Once there, Gahir reports that the number he’ll wear throughout his Lancers’ career will hold very special significance.
“I will be wearing No. 15 which was Brandon’s number at North Delta,” Gahir says of honouring his former high school teammate Brandon Bassi, a cousin of Gaurav’s, who lost his life at the age of 19 as the result of an automobile accident in May of 2019 after having come off of his freshman soccer season with the Simon Fraser Clan.
“Gaurav and I, we’re trying to keep representing him,” added Gahir, who will major in business at Cal Baptist. “So No. 15, I’ll be wearing it hopefully through all of my years there.”
This story started off by talking about all the ways a young person has leaned on his neighbourhood. Now, as he sets out on a journey to put down some roots of his own, it’s good to see Suraj Gahir is keeping a little bit of his North Delta neighbourhood so very close to his heart.
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