SoCal's Santa Margarita Eagles will open play at the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Wednesday (7:45 p.m.) against Burnaby's Byrne Creek Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy Santa Margarita athletics 2023. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

TBI Boys 2023: Santa Margarita Catholic’s Eagles fly north! Klay Thompson’s alma mater brings pulse of SoCal hoops to Tsumura Basketball Invitational! Day 1 debut Wednesday vs. Byrne Creek!

LANGLEY — Everything about their world seems soaked in culture and the history of SoCal basketball.

Check out this week’s Los Angeles Times’ Top 25 boys high school rankings for its own Southland region, and there are the Santa Margarita Catholic Eagles sitting at No. 19.

Do a little surfing through your favourite search engine and it’s not too long before you come across all of the stories written when the school’s favourite basketball son — Golden State Warriors’ superstar Klay Thompson — had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Eagles during a ceremony held back in January of 2017.

And finally, if you check out their 2023-24 schedule, one which includes their league clashes against such powerhouse rivals as St. John Bosco, JSerra Catholic and Mater Dei, you’ll discover that Santa Margarita Catholic is making a northern journey this season.

This week, to be precise.

“We always like to do something different as a team and we have some seniors on this team, who we want, at the end of the day, to be able take away those kinds of lasting memories of ‘Hey, we did this, and it was a great experience,’” explained Santa Margarita head coach Justin Bell, who this week has flown his Eagles northward the Langley Events Centre for a four-day run at the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational.

“We are super thankful to come to Vancouver,” continued Bell, whose team will close out Day 1 of the TBI’s elite 16-team opening-round draw on Wednesday by facing Burnaby’s perennial Triple-A contending Byrne Creek Bulldogs in a 7:45 p.m. tip at the LEC’s Centre Court gym.

For one-click links to TBI’s two separate boys 16-team draws, click here.

“I have been fortunate enough to have come up once with my college team, when I was an assistant coach in college, and I love the city and how hospitable everybody was to us” added Bell, the Eagles’ fifth-year head coach who in 2013-14, as part of the UC-Riverside men’s college coaching staff, saw the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley during a late-September foreign tour which included an 88-77 win over the UBC Thunderbirds. “Everything about that trip was fantastic and so this brings it all full circle. Now, I want our team to get out and play some different kinds of competition so that they can see what basketball is like in a different country.”

Based in the city of Rancho Santa Margarita, a half-hour drive southeast of Anaheim, the Eagles play in one of the most competitive athletic unions on the west coast.

The so-called Trinity League, even more vaunted in the world of high school football, is its usual top-shelf self this season over the early days of the boys varsity basketball campaign.

In the aforementioned L.A. Times’ Southland Top 25 rankings, fellow league mates St. John Bosco sits at No. 1 while fellow rivals JSerra Catholic and Mater Dei occupy spots Nos. 3-4.

Within that galaxy of top programs, Santa Margarita has had its moments, including being crowned 2021 CIF Southern California Regional Champions. This week the Eagles come into the TBI with a 3-3 overall record, and Bell is proud of what he and his players have built over the past four-plus seasons, including a pretty strong pipeline to Div. 1 programs.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we have had a guy go D-1 every year I have been here,” explained Bell, who saw that streak remain in tact on November signing day when 6-foot-5 senior guard Cameron McNamee committed to the Ivy League’s Dartmouth Big Green.

Santa Margarita Catholic senior Cameron McNamee will play in the TBI Wednesday through Saturday. Next season he’s off to the Ivy League with the Dartmouth Big Green. (Photo courtesy Santa Margarita athletics 2023. All Rights Reserved)

Last season, Rockwell Reynolds signed with Northern Arizona, while Kyle Evans (Colorado State) and Luke Turner (UC-Riverside) are among the program’s other recent Div. 1 signees.

Some of the others who will join McNamee on Wednesday include senior guards Jonathan Moxie and Ethan Rhee, 6-foot-8 Grade 11 forward Dallas Washington, and a pair of 6-foot-6 Grade 10 forwards in Brayden Kyman and Drew Anderson.

The Eagles are sure to provide a test for Byrne Creek, and Bulldogs’ head coach Bal Dhillon loves the fact that his charges get a chance to face what appears to be a vaunted opponent.

“It’s a good way to measure yourself early in the season,” said Dhillon. “We don’t know very much about their personnel but we’re excited for the opportunity. But we’re also competitors, so we want to compete.

“We’re going to compete… that is what they are going to do,” continued Dhillon, whose team has, among its core, a quartet of seniors in Cusmos Djunga, Justin Pamintuan, Faisal Rashid and Atawa Baraba, all of whom are being counted upon to provide solid contributions. “It’s early days in our year, and on Wednesday night we’re still going to work on the things we need to work on.”

For Santa Margarita, the Tsumura Basketball Invitational is about continuing the process of building team chemistry, but it’s also about strengthening their bonds off the court through the unique experience of touring basketball.

“We have a lot of the families coming up as well,” said Bell. “Everyone is fired up,” he added. “We’re very appreciative of our opportunity. We don’t take it lightly. We know there is good basketball up there and we look forward to coming up and playing.”

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