LANGLEY — Darko Karac never freezes, even on those December nights when he arrives at a basketball court with ice in his veins.
That was about the only diagnosis you could deliver if you happened to watch the King George Dragons’ 6-foot-4 senior guard do his magic over the final 78 seconds of one of the most dramatic games in the decade-plus history of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
Playing his favourite role, that of team catalyst, Karac led his Dragons back from an 18-point deficit 3:13 into the third quarter, scoring his team’s final five points as part of the team’s game-closing 14-2 splurge to stun Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Kodiaks 72-71 in the Select 16 semifinals here at the Langley Events Centre.
After teammate Ashton Vig had scored off a reverse lay-in to pull the Dragons within 71-67, Karac’s daring euro-step lay-up through a mass of traffic in the paint fell through with and-one consequences for the Kodiaks. After Karac completed the oldf-fashioned three-point play from the charity stripe, the score was 71-70 with 1:18 left.
Then, with just seven seconds remaining, Karac drew a foul, and with the game truly hanging inthe balance, he quickly knocked down both free throws to puthis team on top 72-71.
“I can’t explain Darko, I’ll just not explain him because he does stuff that is Luca magic,” said King George head coach Darko Kulic with reverance for the abilities of Dallas soperstar Luca Doncic.
“Phenomenal, heart of a champion, foul trouble, adversity… it’s what we talk about every day,” Kulic continued after Karac finished with 20 points and enough intangibles, that if translated, would surely stuff a figurative box score.
“To every college coach out there, Darko Karac better be on your (wish list) because if you’re not trying to get him than somebody else will,” Kulic preached.
Never one to hold back his opinion, such a sentiment was hard to argue given the way Karac captained a reversal of momentum through his sheer will and determination.
Heritage Woods had its defensive schematic looking quite fool-proof when it came time to protecting its paint from the Dragons.
It was like a suit of armour which seemed to have unflappable Dragons on the verge of folding up their tents.
Yet that old adage of chipping away at the stone seemed to pay off for King George.
“Today, we weren’t ourselves at the start of the game,” said Karac. “We came out a little scared. It was the semifinals, and a lot of our guys were juniors or guys that didn’t have much provincial (championship) experience, so it was going to be about setting the tone in the second half.
“I told my guys that I trusted them no matter what,” Karac continued. “We have been a group together since kindergarten, almost 12 years now, so being together for this long, we trusted each other. We knew we could pull through.”
At the very least it wasn’t going to happen without that level of belief, and now the Dragons get a chance to play for all of the marbles when they face Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Knights on Saturday in the Select 16 championship final at 3 p.m. on the LEC’s South Court.
The foundation they have laid coming into this season, and the way its core of Grade 11s have accepted early and important challnges, seems to make them a clear contender to return to the B.C. Quad-A championships.
They have a prolific, go-to scorer in Aidan Wilkie, who scored a game-high 23 points in the loss.
But they also have rotation with depth, a fact made even more encouraging given its youthful high celing.
Owen Maloney added 16, and Joseph Thompson and Afu Bullock nine each.
King George got another 20 points from Faisal Shawwa, 15 from Andre Novicic and 12 from Vig.
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