VICTORIA — When you’ve coached a senior boys varsity basketball program at one school for over 30 years, you build an extremely large and reliable sample size as a base of comparison.
So when Harvey Thorau begins to enthuse about the current state of his Single-A B.C. No. 1-ranked Glenlyon Norfolk Gryphons, you tend to believe that the current edition is one of the more special teams produced since Glenlyon School and Norfolk House amalgamated to become a co-ed institution way back in 1986.
“It’s been one of those years,” Thorau said late last week.
“I don’t think we could have predicted in our wildest dreams that things would have unfolded this way,” he continued of his team, which plays host to the three-day Vancouver Island championships starting on Thursday.
In what ways?
“Just the wins and the way they have pulled the iron out of the fire in so many close games; the way they dedicated themselves in the off-season, and the way they have competed so hard,” said Thorau, who has coached alongside one of his former players, Steve King, for the better part of the past 20 years.
Heading into its Vancouver Island tourney opener on Thursday (2 p.m.) against Maaqtusiis, the Gryphons have gone 25-3 with multiple victories this season against Quad A foes Mt. Douglas and Spectrum, and its only losses coming against 2A Lambrick Park, 3A Pitt Meadows and 4A Guildford Park.
Thorau, the one-and-only senior boys basketball head coach in GNS history, took the helm of the program in 1987-88, one year after the amalgamation, and remembers a debut squad of eight players, but only in those games when its manager suited up to play.
All these years later Thorau, 59, is one of the province’s most veteran coaches, and he and King have worked to try and help the team take another big step this week at the Vancouver Island championships where it needs to capture one of the zone’s two berths to the B.C. championships, March 6-9 at the Langley Events Centre.
He’s been around long enough to know that the B.C. tournament, in terms of historical record, is the final arbiter on so many levels of a team’s greatness.
Yet staying in the present tense, Thorau isn’t afriad to connect the dots of his very best teams from just over a decade ago, with the current 2018-19 Gryphons.
“We had gone three straight years of making the finals,” Thorau relates of the 2005-through 2007 provincial title games which began with back-to-back heartbreakers against Abbotsford Christian (62-52) and then crosstown Pacific Christian (68-65), but was followed by the program’s lone B.C. title win in 2007, a dynamic 90-58 win over Langley Christian.
“The chemistry of those teams, how they got along, how they developed an intuition of where each other would be was what made them special,” continued Thorau of the three-season spike made all the memorable by the fact that his two sons — Tyler and Kyle, the latter the 2007 tourney MVP, played under him.
“Now, we have two guards who have been playing senior since Grade 10,” he continued of seniors Chris Graham and Ethan Stanger. “They spent a lot of time over the off-season playing at UVic, and going to camps and dragging other guys with them. It’s given them a chemistry and an intuition that is magical.”
Graham, a 5-foot-10 guard, recently capped his third straight Lower Island league scoring title at around 26 points-per-game as part of a season in which he has scored 30-plus on a number of occasions and even scored 51 points on one occasion.
“We’re nine-to-10 players deep, and this is the tallest team we’ve had,” Thorau continues of a core of four 6-foot-5 players led by the likes of senior Jack Brunkan and Grade 11 Alec Boegman. “There’s a lot of speed and five guys can dunk.”
A good template for the current season was set last year, when the Gryphons came in as Vancouver Island champs.
In the quarterfinal round, however, as a No. 8 seed, they fell hard to Langley’s No. 1 seeded Credo Christian 76-55, despite a game-high 32 points from Graham.
“I think that was a big part of it for us, seeing the level of the competition and learning where we needed to get better,” added Thorau. “Ever since, they have really pushed each other. It’s chemistry, and it’s what reminds me of us back in 2007.”
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