No. 1 TAMANAWIS 69 No. 12 HERITAGE WOODS 55
LANGLEY — On Monday night, just past the midway mark of the second quarter, at a juncture of the biggest basketball game of both teams’ season, it took but a second for one player to remind us all that he was ready to take on all comers.
Tray Belanger, the 6-foot-4 Tamanawis Wildcats’ guard who for the last three days has been tempting us all here at the 53rd annual B.C. junior boys basketball championships to believe that he could be the next one, decided to go next level.
Yes, his team had built a 33-22 lead over the unflappable Heritage Woods Kodiaks of Port Moody, yet the defining direction of the game’s current had still to been resolved.
That is until Belanger decided it was time for the tide to turn.
Face-guarded by the Kodiaks’ star forward Joseph Thompson, the guy who drew the toughest cover of the night, Belanger faked a drive from the top of the three-point arc, then stepped back and nailed a triple while being fouled by Thompson.
Belanger completed the four-point play from the stripe, and Thompson played it as well as he could… yet the magnificence of the play that put the ‘Cats on top to stay at 37-22 came in the depth of lean in Belanger’s fake, and the subsequent step-back move into the three.
It was one giant step-back move for the Wildcats, and one giant step forward on their way to a place in tonight’s 7 p.m. championship final against the No. 11-seeded St. Thomas More Knights.
“He is a talent that doesn’t come around very often,” said Tammy head coach Aurel David. “Don’t be surprised if he’s on the national team for years to come. I think between everyone on our team, and all the Wildcats’ fans that came out… when the ball is in his hands, we feel safe.”
Safe to the tune of a game-high 34 points, it was a performance which not only showcased his inside-out game (a pair of threes, 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line), but his open-floor acumen.
Surrounded by lights-out shooters like Sunny Dhami, Sayvic Dhami and Anand Sandhu, he drew help defenders from every corner of the court, yet seeminly was able to win every battle because of his innate ability to summon his physical strength, his power-dribble and his massive stride just as those defenders converge.
The most common result is shot-making through the contact of those defenders.
“I had too, man,” he exclaimed in the post-game when asked how important it was for him to set a tone on the floor early.
“That is a great team,” he said of the Kodiaks. “I saw them take down a couple of big teams (No. 4 Sullivan Heights, No. 5 Westsyde), so I told my team that we better come out ready. I think we executed well.”
Just as impressive was the will to win in Heritage Woods’ 6-foot-2 Thompson, who was giving nothing, and in fact looked happy to try and match everything that Belanger did on his end.
Relying on his great speed and explosiveness, Thompson earned 15 free throw trips (9-of-15) and finished with a team-high 24 points.
Guard Afu Bullock added 13 for the Kodiaks and post Ben Pearson another 10.
Sunny Dhami scored 20 points for Tamanawis while Anand added 10 more.
Tammy coach David added of tonight’s foe in the Knights, who have won their previous three games against higher-seeded teams: “It’s the finals. I think they are a team that has a lot of foot-speed so we are going to have to match that and stay composed and poised throughout.”
Belanger, the kid with the big step, felt his team was ready to take another one of those tonight.
“Provincials is a great environment and it’s just going to get the team better as we go through,” he said. “I think we’re going to come out with the win.”
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