VANCOUVER — What’s the toughest challenge for a talented B.C. high school basketball player looking to continue his or her career as a student-athlete this coming season at the college or university level?
How about simply finding a place to play?
Student-athletes from B.C.’s hard-luck Class of 2021 have not only lost their entire senior season of high school play to the pandemic, they’re also heading out into a world in which post-secondary rosters have remained static, and where an entire class of 2020 recruits have been patiently waiting for their own opportunity to play.
So what’s a hard-working, goal-oriented incoming freshman supposed to do in the face of bloated rosters?
“I think the one thing they need to be is really persistent,” begins Paul Eberhardt, who has coached the game for parts of the last five decades and this fall begins his 10th season as head coach of the men’s team at Vancouver’s Langara College.
“But at the same time,” continues Eberhardt, 56, “if the rosters are full, they need to ask the coach ‘Can I redshirt? I will come to every practice. I’ll do everything.’ I know, for me personally, we’ll take a couple of redshirts with some potential to at least practice and maybe move to the roster the next year. It’ll give them an advantage over the group coming in the year after them.”
The Langara men’s team, as Eberhardt points out, actually had more room than a lot of other programs in the CCAA’s PacWest Conference did.
The Falcons still have two-to-three more spots open for the 2021-22 campaign after the recent signings of two Vancouver high school products in Lord Byng’s Harrison Robinson and Sir Winston Churchill’s Nicholas Chan.
Yet to say the competition is fierce for any open roster spots throughout the conference is an understatement.
“I have right now, on my spread sheet, 45 kids,” Eberhardt says. “These are all current Grade 12 players who have contacted me, either by email or in some cases by phone, about playing at Langara. The toughest thing is trying to figure out which of these high school kids I can add to my roster without having seen them play in over a year.”
Steve Beauchamp, head coach of the women’s PacWest team at New Westminster’s Douglas College, has experienced the same uptick in interest as it pertains to joining the Royals, as much because players have had to takes things into their own hands more than ever.
“I have had more student-athletes than ever reach out to say they are interested,” Beauchamp says, “and you know they have had great advice from their coaches, telling them that if they want this to happen, then they have to reach out.
“It’s been a whole year where no one saw them develop,” he continued, “and the film they are sending is from Grade 11 and we all know how much improvement athletes make from one year to the next. I really feel for the seniors.”
Along that vein, coaches are having to make their final recruiting decisions based on older film, or on perhaps, when permitted, a socially-distanced workout session when the ever-changing protocols have permitted.
Eberhardt will continue to do the best he can to complete his 2021-22 Langara roster, yet it was impossible to miss the excitement he had when speaking of his two new high school recruits.
Chan, a 6-footer from Churchill, will join the Falcons as a point/combo guard.
And Robinson, the Grey Ghost whom he deems “a sleeper”, has gone from 6-foot-6 and 215 to 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds since he last played.
The hope, Eberhardt adds, is that a potential green light on June 15th — 19 days from now — will allow better evaluation to take place.
“That is the next health announcement, of whether we get to the next phase,” he said. “I talked with (Langara athletics director) Jake (McCallum) yesterday and I think at that point, we might be able to have an ID camp with limited numbers. But we’re talking maybe two spots.”
The Falcons are expected to be led next season by not only the return of point guard Royce Sargeant (McNair 2014), but Jas Dhudwal, the 6-foot-7 Rookie of the Year out of Surrey’s Guildford Park, and U.S. imports Saleem Ali-Musa (6-foot-5 F) and Allayasa Bray (6-foot-4, G).
The challenges ahead are plenty for university and college coaches in all sports.
But beyond everything, both Beauchamp and Eberhardt ache for the B.C.’s entire Class of 2021 seniors.
“You think back to your own personal experience as a Grade 12,” Beauchamp begins. “Those Grade 11 kids last season, they got to finish that (2019-20) season, they got to think ‘I am going to be dynamic next year’ and ‘I can’t wait to be the leader of my team.’ And then to not have any of that opportunity. You feel for all of them, and that’s not just basketball, but in all sports.”
Beauchamp’s B.C. recruits for this coming season include New Westminster’s Anja Tjernagel, Kathryn New of Langley Christian, Brookswood’s Quinn Jasper, Maria Kim of Riverside, Khalsa’s Avnoor Waraich and Sharlene Siy of Steveston-London.
Adds Eberahrdt of those unable to catch on in 2021-22: “Let’s say everything goes to plan and we have a season next year (2021-22). So they have a year off to work on their body and get bigger and stronger. Those are good things. But there will be a whole new Grade 12 class coming in as well, so they could get bumped again. It’s just a really tough situation.”
Yet seasons down the road, perhaps it will be persistence personified which winds up defining B.C.’s graduating high school Class of 2021 as entirely unique… and special.
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