Whose's the greatest? Ron Putzi (left) and the 1988 Richmond Colts, or the Brothers Kazanowski and the 1978 Nanaimo Islanders. (Photos property of B.C High School Boys Basketball Association 2020. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

THE 75th ANNIVERSARY FINALE: Nanaimo ’78 and Richmond ’88 both brought depth, talent and innovation to the court! So which team was best?

LANGLEY — By this time next week, we will have crowned B.C’s. 75th top-tiered senior boys high school basketball champions.

This season, celebrating the diamond jubilee of the provincial championships has been akin to breaking open a time capsule and feeling, quite immediately, that instant connection to our past and why the tournament itself continues to not only endure, but take on a new life of its own with each passing year.

As the showcase to that party, the 75th anniversary fantasy bracket, designed to crown our all-time greatest B.C. high school boys basketball team, reaches its fitting conclusion today, less than 48 hours away from Wednesday’s official opening tip. (Full completed tourney bracket is included a the bottom to keep the suspense if that was your choice)

Deep, dangerous and undefeated against B.C. competition for two straight seasons, the 1988 Richmond Colts were a team many say has no peers. (Photo property of the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association 2020. All Rights Reserved)

THE SCENE-SETTER:

The school buses arrived outside the Langley Event Centre a few hours ahead of the official tip, and although much has changed in the real-time world of high school basketball players since the 1978 Nanaimo Islanders and the 1988 Richmond Colts won their respective B.C. titles, nothing about the excitement, the nerves, or the surrealistic head space that a championship game day brings will ever change.

The Colts arrive first.

There is an aura about them as they make their way through the sliding doors of the Langley Events Centre, and the looks on their faces tells a story.

Undefeated against B.C. competition for the entirety of their two season run as provincial champions, they are loose and laughing, yet their confidence is unquestioned.

You can see it in the face of Joey deWit, the alpha Colt whose love of a good challenge is legendary.

And then there’s Ron Putzi, who at 6-foot-6 was not a giant by any stretch, yet could played so huge at any part of the floor he happened to be at while under the guidance of legendary head coach Bill Disbrow.

As they head into the cavernous Arena Court complex, the touches were impossible to miss, especially the massive poster, complete with team caricatures, which reads ‘Bill’s Boys Are Back in 2020.’

Not too much later, a second bus pulls up out front, and it’s a yellow, rickety vintage 1970’s model emblazoned with ‘School Dist. 68’ markings.

Transported from an age one full year ahead of the debut of something called the Sony Walkman portable music player, a crew and coach of long-haired Nanaimo Islanders piles off the bus and shuffles into the LEC, several looking like cast extras from the 1970s-set movie Dazed and Confused.

There’s three brothers among them — Gerald, John and Greg Kazanowski — and their chemistry under head coach John Levering has been incredible.

Confidence is a prerequisite for this championship matchup, and as the Islanders stroll into Arena Court for their brief shootaround, they hear a song playing over what to them is a futuristic sound system.

That song is Raz-ama-naz by the rock group Nazareth, but as far as Gerald Kazanowski is concerned, it’s Raz-ama-Kaz.

The 1978 Nanaimo Islanders as they appeared in that year’s official Tournament,ent program. (Photo property of BCHSBBOA 2020. All Rights Reserved)

THE TWIST

The legend of the 1986-87 to 1987-88 Richmond Colts is based on so many things, but the fact that for two years it took on all comers in the B.C. high school basketball world and didn’t lose a single game, is certainly its trump card.

The Nanaimo Islanders lost to the Kelowna Owls 67-65 in the opening round of the 1977 championships.

The Colts, however, won all eight of their games in two years at the provincials, and when you consider the comfortable 99-80 margin of its 1988 B.C. final win over the Seaquam Seahawks, you’re inclined to think that they breezed through the field.

Not so fast, reminds Putzi.

That’s because in the 1987 quarterfinals at the Agrodome, Abbotsford’s Mike Hanik hit a free throw to tie the game 58-58 and send it into overtime.

By that stage, Putzi, Jamie Stone and Rob Rowett, all starters, had fouled out of the game.

Disbrow threw guard Neil Blake out there in the OT, and with about a minute left, he made some magic happen.

“He came in cold, and then he hits this shot that looked like it went over the backboard,” remembers Putzi of a release which came so deep along the baseline. “I remember him being in the air and taking that shot and thinking ‘Oh my God Neil, don’t shoot that’ but he hit it, and if he didn’t, we never would have won two titles.”

Blake went on to a career as a private equity banker in New York City, and every time Putzi sees him, the greeting is always the same.

“I hug him, I thank him, and I tell him that without that shot we would not have the legacy that we have today.”

Richmond’s Ron Putzi put on a show during the 1988 championships. including this semifinal dunk over as part of a win over the Alberni District Armada. (Photos property of B.C High School Boys Basketball Association 2020. All Rights Reserved)

THE OPENING TIP

As the expected sell-out crowd fills the stands at the Langley Events Centre, the Colts come charging out onto the court to the strains of their theme song:Foreplay/Long Time by 1970s rockers Boston.

Pretty soon the lay-up lines for both teams are progressing with blinding precision.

Putzi and Gerald Kazanowksi, each checking in at 6-foot-6, are seen checking out each others skills as both get the crowd going with their dunking prowess.

Then, the buzzer sounds.

The veteran officiating crew of Karn Dhillon, Steve Mawhinney and Bill Denney take their places.

It’s game time.

Quite remarkably, as the two teams line up for the Canadian national anthem, they are strikingly similar across the board in terms of stature with the Colts having a slight advantage with its taller bench players like the 6-foot-5 Grade 11 pair of Graeme Lindsay and Andrew Zawada.

Putzi, point guard Brian Tait, de Wit, Bryan Wevers and Damon Robb comprise the Richmond starters.

The Islanders have the three Kazanowskis in their main rotation, along with the likes of guards Mark Spees and Colin Tinga, and 6-foot-5 forward Paul Davis.

Off the opening tip, Richmond’s omnipresent man-to-man defence aligns as expected with Putzi drawing Gerald Kazanowski and de Wit locking up with Greg Kazanowski, freshly minted as that season’s Vancouver Island MVP.

“He is the best defender I ever saw,” Colts’ coach Disbrow has said in reflection over the years of de Wit. “He would come into practice, walk over to a player and say ‘Today, you don’t touch the ball.’ He would just pick someone and tell them ‘It’s over for you.’”

With all of that, and with Putzi and the Colts’ frontcourt reserve pair of Zawada and Lindsay able to box out Gerald Kazanowski over much of the first half, the Islanders struggle to find their form.

Spees is being hounded and challenged to find shooting rhythm and space, and Richmond’s Tait is orchestrating to  the top of his game.

At the half, Richmond hits the locker room with a 52-41 lead.

“I think we knew that by Grade 12 that we had a pretty special team,” reflects Putzi, “and although we went undefeated, I feel like above everything else we had such great respect for each other as individuals. I really feel like it was a team which had zero arrogance.”

The roster was tight and talented, although the bench often times is overshadowed by the starters.

Still, the likes of seniors Jeff Pereira, Sowen Ng and Blake helped establish the winning culture, and Grade 11s like Trevor Kojima and Glen Campbell were players who would show their value even more the following season.

THE STRETCH DRIVE

Gerald Kazanowski enjoyed a career filled with highlights at the top levels of game.

National championships under Ken Shields at Victoria, international play under Jack Donahue with the Canadian national team, getting drafted by the Utah Jazz, facing the original 1992 US Olympic Dream team.

Yet ask him about high school, and the memories are just as alive in him today as they were back in 1978.

“He was a big reason for my success,” Kazanowski says of John Levering, his high school coach at Nanaimo. “He said to a shy guy at the end of his Grade 11 year ‘Gerald, you think about, about maybe playing in the Olympics one day. From that moment forward, I put it in the back of my mind.”

It’s from that place that we pick up the second half.

Levering’s pep talk seems to have worked, because the Isles are getting back to finding ways to play their style of basketball.

“My two brothers were like mosquitoes, really fast,” Kazanowski remembers. “Our offence would start with super pressure on the guards. Most teams were happy just to get the ball over half court. Then, our guards would play unorthodox.

“They would tap the ball back to me, and I would throw it long, so I guess I would call it high tempo,” he added. “We always wanted to get steals and lay-ups.”

The blitz of the Hub City five evens the score after the third quarter at 64-64.

And according to two veteran B.C. high school coaches who saw the Islanders first hand back in the day, the Nanaimo style was not only effective, it was in many ways pioneering.

“Whenever you scored on them Gerald was throwing it to one of his brothers and they scored right back on you in seconds,” said Rich Chambers, the former Centennial head coach who later experienced the feeling of B.C. title glory at helm of PoCo’s Terry Fox Ravens. “They were running the uptempo super fast-break way before anyone else.”

Added Ken Dockendorf, another B.C. championship coach who is still guiding the Maple Ridge Ramblers: “Nanaimo was ahead of their time with how they pressed and ran their fast break. They truly were a forerunner to the new style of play with more intense pressure and scoring in transition.”

Raza-ma-Kaz circa March 1978 (left to right) John, Gerald and Greg Kazanowski of the Nanaimo Islanders. (Photos property of B.C High School Boys Basketball Association 2020. All Rights Reserved)

THE POST-GAME PARTY

The rebounding of Gerald, the defence of John, and the scoring of Greg in the fourth quarter proves to be, in the eyes of the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association committee entrusted with making the final call on a fantasy champion, the ultimate difference makers.

In fact it’s a fast-break basket off a strip by John Kazanowski, whose ensuing outlet to Greg Kazanowski and near-touch pass at the rim for a buzzer-beating lay-in by Gerald Kazanowski that allows the 1978 Nanaimo Islanders to defeat the 1988 Richmond Colts 84-83 and claim the honour of being B.C.’s best-ever boys high school basketball team.

All players and coaches interviewed for this series were unaware of the outcomes, as was your author, at the time of those interviews. All 64 teams selected, as well as each round’s winning teams, was solely made by the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association.

In the spirit of celebrating our B.C. high school basketball community on the occasion of its 75th birthday, these words from Gerald Kazanowski seem especially fitting.

“I think that we were a phenomenal team,” Kazanowski says, “but really, how do you judge one era versus another?

“But hey, maybe one day someone will invent some kind of a program which can do just that,”

So now, let’s blow out the candles ands begin the countdown to B.C. tournament No. 75.

See you all later this week at the Langley Events Center.

 

(For a higher-resolution version of this bracket, click here)

If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at howardtsumura@gmail.com.

12 thoughts on “THE 75th ANNIVERSARY FINALE: Nanaimo ’78 and Richmond ’88 both brought depth, talent and innovation to the court! So which team was best?

  1. Howard ,
    Thanks – – – great “tournament” and really enjoyed all the ‘games’
    Only surprise was that with all the talented “island” teams in the 60’s dominated by Oak Bay and Vic High , none of them even made it to the ‘sweet 16’ . . . . . wonder whose decision that was ? ? ?

    1. Howard Tsumura has seen every game in the tournament for as long as I can remember and more. I do wonder if his voice was heard on that panel….

  2. What???!!!!
    Come on! Us get fast-breaked?! Never happened. – even against the No. 1 ranked Louisiana high school team we beat by 18 in Vegas that year.
    The BC final was the 2nd closest score all year.

    Great read…….I’m so gutted right now😢
    Well done boys, I really enjoyed it.

  3. This from William Disbrow‎ to Richmond Colts Basketball Alumni

    A fabulous fantasy tournament to decide the best ever team in our province has just ended and the ending was expected given the judges but still shocking. Let’s understand what just happened with this fantasy tournament. First understand the word fantasy. The outcome was just an opinion.
    One I would say was not based upon fair assessment.
    I am biased. I am pretty sure, given the history of some of the committee members that they were too. Just not the same way I am.
    I present however, these unchallenged facts to you.
    1. Undefeated for two years. During the absolute glory years for high school basketball in our province.
    2. Two Division One players and one who could have been but chose to stay in Canada. Unmatched talent.
    3. Given the greatest compliment ever given to a Canadian high school team. Morgan Wooten, coach of DeMatha, considered the greatest coach in US high school history and founder of the McDonald’s All America game, said at the end of the 88 season that the best team he had seen all season was the Colts. A season during which his team had played in major tournaments across their country, and was from the US east coast which was the traditional hot bed for basketball. His team was ranked number two nationally in the US. He had seen all the teams ranked at the top for his country. And he said we were the best. And he said it when not in Vancouver. An honest assessment to the press at the end of their season. We had played his team tough down to last minute in what all in attendance would agree was the greatest game ever played in BC. The game that had the biggest crowd ever in the UBC gym. His team had five guys 6’8 or bigger. One would be in the NBA just two years later. Every other member of that team got a basketball scholarship! And their coach said we were the best team they saw all season! But a committee headed by a Richmond hater with a history of vitriol toward the Colts and a desire for vengeance says we weren’t the best ever. Okay. You decide. I’m biased.
    4. This team were media darlings far beyond anything seen before or since. They were celebrities all over the province and raised our game to its peak of popularity. They could not have done more. Apparently not enough for our judge.
    No one can ever know what would have happened should the Colts have faced Nanaimo during each team’s prime but to say this Colt team wasn’t the greatest ever in terms of accomplishment and what they did for basketball here is beyond credibility.
    So Colts please know this judgment had nothing to do with anything based in reality. The 88 Colts were without a doubt BCs greatest ever team. And they were far from being the only Colts team to be fabulous. 91 and 98 went undefeated as well. Awesome teams. Others were close.
    This tournament was fun to follow and superbly written up by Howard Tsumura. Our game’s premier historian and expert on the provincial scene for years. In his previous version, after interviewing basketball insiders from across our game’s history, he had 88 win the last version of the fantasy tournament. Which tournament included the outstanding team from Nanaimo as well. And they really were good. Judge by what they did versus what the 88 Colts did for the game and what all that meant for the game in our province however, and we really come to understand the word fantasy. It’s a dream. Not based upon reality. Maybe upon revenge. You can decide for yourself.
    Be proud Colts.
    88 wins the Reality Tournament hands down.

  4. A few facts about 88 Colts:
    – 4 grade 12’s on the BC team that won the Western Canadian Championship.
    – 3 grade 11’s on the BC teams the following year.
    – 4 player scholarships.
    – Closest game was against Seaquam (5 points, but closer than the score indicated)
    – 2nd closest game was against Seaquam when we beat them by 19 in the final
    – Beat No 1 ranked team from Louisiana by 18 in Las Vegas tournament. The most athletic team I have ever played against (seemed like every player was over 6’4″). I feel that game was one of the reasons Putzi, DeWitt, and Tait were offered D1 scholarships.
    – Were within 2 points of #2 US ranked DeMatha with 2 minutes to go.
    – 6 players could dunk – no real indication of anything, but impressive none the less. And this would be a regular occurance in games.

    To this day I have talked to many people who were at the DeMatha game. Many say that it was the greatest game ever played. However, some admitted they wanted to see us get destroyed by DeMatha. I think that sentiment is still out there. The 88 Colts beat every Canadian team with ease and humiliated many because even the bench was better than the vast majority of our competition. Our practises were more competative than our games, hence we were wired to always play as hard as we could. This bothered a lot of coaches, players, and fans. I recall seeing many frustrated/defeated coaches; Chambers, Goulette, Biers, Eberhardt, sitting dejected on the bench when we were up by 30 (30 -50 point wins were common). At college, guys didn’t like me at first, later telling me they hated Richmond because we beat them so badly.

    Bill was accused of recruiting, but I want to remind everyone that the starting 5 – Tait (Burnett), Putzi (Burnett), DeWitt (Palmer), Wevers (Palmer), Robb (Palmer) all were in the Richmond High catchment. (Palmer won the Jr BC’s in 86).

    But I feel many still want to see the 88 Colts taken down a peg and there is only one way to do that.

    1. Dude, even though I went to Burnaby South, I always respected the Richmond Colts, and also, even playing Oak Bay back in the day, I agree the ‘88 Colts were likely the best…

  5. Great read! With all due respect, the 1953 Burnaby South Rebels made the bracket,
    while the 1979 Burnaby South Rebels did not?! Even after defeating the Bill Disbrow, Alan Tait,
    Jim Mills led Richmond Colts?! Hmmm…

  6. Bryan, Bill…
    As mentioned in Bill’s comment, I had to pull out of the archives the 2005, 60th anniversary version of this tournament, which of course are both very well done. In that tournament the 88 Colts played Nanaimo 78, beating them 78-76 in the semi’s and yes I’m biased and also, still trying to figure this one out. I figured that even before the final result, someone on the selection committee would dislike the Colts just enough. As quoted from the 2005 version, “they just had so many more offensive options.” Richmond 88

  7. Love the passion, love the argument, love the debate. This whole thing was designed to simply create discussion and have some fun with the game we all love. The BC High School boys tournament is truly one of the most special, unique, and treasured events in the entire country and here we are celebrating 75 amazing years. Why some people choose to make personal attacks is a mystery to me and it is actually kind of sad? With over 30 coaches, players, basketball fans and historians taking part in these selections can we not just celebrate all of these amazing teams as well as some great teams that didn’t even make it to the fantasy 64. Everyone thinks there own team is the greatest as they should but the personal attacks on those of us who volunteered to help with this task are completely out of bounds.

  8. I’m just saying that there are a lot of Richmond Colt haters. It’s just a fact. I have heard it first hand. And the HSBC tournament was partially created just to stick it to Richmond.
    Tell me I am wrong….

    Also, did Naniamo pick up a new recruit after 2005 I did not hear about? 😂😂

  9. I just saw this article and Would like to give my opinion.,I have to agree that these two teams were the best.I also agree it’s difficult to compare teams unless you play against each other in a tournament,Richmond and Nanaimo have two of the best programs in the history of bc basketball without a doubt.RIchmond also had one of the greatest high school players in bc basketball history Alan Tait who burned my team for48 points in the 1980 bc quarter finals,However when it comes to fact versus fantasy here is where I choose Kaz and Nanaimo over Richmond. In the eighties and nineties the Keg sponsored a basketball tournament at Simon Fraser University bringing together the best players from each school from any year who were basketball alumni from their high school., Players played with pride and wanted to represent their old school to prove who’s school had the best players from the old days of high school.I am not making this up this tournament existed and all the best players showed up and gave it everything they had to give.Many ex national team players and men who played professional overseas came to represent with pride their old school.Even the legend Lars Hansen ex Seattle Supersonic played.This tournament existed for 12 years and was open to any ex school who’s players thought they were the best.Now here in my opinion is when we separate fact from fiction. The fact is Kaz and essentially the same players he graduated with from high school won this tournament the first 3 years of its existence.This is against teams who could choose players from whatever different years they graduated from.After that they proved their point and never played in this tournament again.In the next three years my school never entered and it’s been so long I don’t remember who won those years.I do remember who won the following 6 years North Surrey Secondary school my old school. We won 6 years in a row and as an old man I take pride in that achievement.After that last championship the tournament disbanded.I have to admit if Kaz and his old high school team showed up I believe we may never would have won that tournament. Richmond high players from 1988 and all years were eligible to play but I don’t believe ever won this tournament.Kaz was one of the greatest players in Canadian basketball history and that’s fact not fiction.In all honesty I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings but as good as Richmond 88 team was nobody will ever convince me that the 78 Nanaimo team was not the greatest of all time.If they showed up with their 78 team they very well could have won 12 alumni championships. Sorry Kaz and the boys were that good that’s a fact not fantasy.

    1. John, you are 100% correct! Thank-you for sharing this. Kaz had the whole package. Very competitive, yet extrememly humble, shy and very polite. I grew up in Nanaimo, in that era, graduated from Nanaimo Senior Secondary and knew those guys. Seeing that picture of them from back in the day,…well, it brought back a lot of memories. Nanaimo had a lot of good sports programs. I thought it was just part of life. School basketball also had an amazing cheerleading squad I might add, which I was a part of. The basketball games were always the main event at NDSS.

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