ABBOTSFORD — Greg DeVries is some 30 years into a life of meaningful basketball games and practices, and as such, the head coach of the senior boys varsity at Abbotsford Secondary knows just how special and rare the make-up of his 2019-209 Panthers actually was by asking himself a simple question.
When was the last time that a B.C. boys high school basketball team produced, in the same season, three blue-chip, next-level U Sports recruits in three different sports, none of which happened to be in basketball?
The odds say it has happened before, yet what makes the case of guards Marley Edwards (soccer) and Jalem Catlin (football) and forward Josiah Levale (rugby) all the more unique is that each of the trio’s specialty sport was of the high-participation team variety, and that each member of that trio of athletes also competed in that sport for their high school teams as well.
“I never got to coach Chase Claypool,” admits DeVries of the former Panthers’ wide receiver (and basketball standout) who parlayed a tremendous career at Notre Dame into a burgeoning NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, “but the three of them are probably the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”
And although the term ‘athlete’ can be broad, in DeVries’ dictionary it’s not only possessing physical fluidity and mental tenacity, but the versatility to flourish in any number of roles, and a sensibility for the concepts of team.
And if you ask the coach, there is no better place to find those traits than in a multi-sport athlete.
“They are so much better prepared for any sport because so much of their learning has been interdisciplinary,” he says. “And all of their learning from other sports is directly applicable, from teamwork to spacing.
Edwards, an attacking midfielder, played a pivotal role as a Grade 11 in leading Abbotsford to the Final Four at the 2018 B.C. senior boys Triple-A soccer provincials where it lost 1-0 to eventual champion Vancouver College.
Although the Panthers were unable to get past the tough group stage at the 2019 provincials, Edwards was once again a key leader, then moved from soccer straight into the 2019-20 hoops season which began in late November.
In the fall, Edwards joins the surging men’s soccer program from his hometown as he dons the kit of the Fraser Valley Cascades.
Catlin, dynamic as both the feature running back on the football team, and as a guard/forward with the basketball team, was a study in perseverance as he battled injuries in both sports this season.
In just eight games, Catlin led all of B.C. Triple-A football with 1,703 yards on 200 carries, averaging almost 213 yards per game and 8.5 yards per carry while finding the end zone 17 times.
Catlin also led Triple-A football in rushing in 2018 with 1,470 yards and 14 scores.
In the fall, the B.C. High School Football Triple A All-Star selection begins his U Sport football career in the OUA with the Windsor Lancers.
Yet on a basketball team loaded with offensive talent, he was also able to flash his skill before a high ankle sprain on seniors night almost threatened to end his hardcourt campaign.
“Jalem was on verge of starting but then late in season got injured and he had a real struggle from that injury,” admitted DeVries. “In the end, it reduced his availability.”
Edwards, a 5-foot-8 guard, played akin to Vinnie ‘Microwave’ Johnson from the Detroit Pistons teams of the mid-to-late 1980s with his skill of coming off the bench and heating up quickly on the offensive end.
“He would go off and score 20 points in some games,” said DeVries. “It was a crowded backcourt on our team this season, but he was hard to keep off the court.”
In tandem, the pair played like the committed dual-sport seniors they were.
“Both Jalem and Marley would come together to increase the intensity level, especially when we played full-court defensively,” said DeVries. “Their athleticism was so great, especially when they were trapping all over the court.”
Levale, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound rugby star headed for Trinity Western (click here for full feature story), completed that trio.
Earlier this season, Levale remembers the trio taking a moment to themselves to chuckle ands reflect about the fact that they had all come together on the basketball team as a final stop together before embarking on the next chapter of their lives as student athletes.
“I definitely remember talking to them about that,” remembers Levale. “It’s crazy. They are going off and accomplishing some great things, and I just felt that it was pretty uplifting to see us all chasing our dreams, our passions.”
DeVries knows all about the impact a top scorer can have on a team.
In 1992, at Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Secondary, he once scored 82 points in a game against Grand Forks, setting a boys B.C. single-game record which would last until early 2019, when Oak Bay’s Diego Maffia scored 94 points to break it.
Yet DeVries, who went on a successful career in U Sports (at that time known as the CIAU) with the Alberta Golden Bears, loved all of the intangible elements his rare trio brought to the team dynamic this past season.
So much so, in fact, that when the Panthers’ current core of rising seniors were 10th graders back in 2018-19 and DeVries was coaching both teams, he would meld the two squads in practice just so the young ones could get a feel for what it was to play against the likes of Catlin, Edwards and Levale.
“Those three, they just loved being a part of the team and all three of them were leaders emotionally,” said DeVries. “They motivated all of our players, and they brought what they learned from their other sports.”
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