LANGLEY — It was a championship game that started out about as slow the morning traffic trying to make its way down a snowy Highway 1 West from the eastern part of the Fraser Valley towards Langley.
But when Josh Dhillon decided to step on the gas o Saturday night, Abbotsford’s Rick Hansen Hurricanes became a force of nature, transforming a plodding cage match into show of clutch shot making at the Langley Events Centre.
The end result?
The ‘Canes beat the South Kamloops Titans 69-63 in the Telus 2017 B.C. senior boys Triple A basketball final, giving the school its first-ever senior varsity hoops title.
“I wasn’t hitting shots all tournament long, no threes, and the whole team wasn’t shooting well,” said the 5-foot-9 senior point guard. “But our coach taught us about mental toughness, how to get through everything and that is what is came down to in the end. It’s not all about your skill, it’s about how tough you are mentally.”
Case in point about battling through the tough times to find the good times?
Hansen shot 26 per cent from the field in the first half, then shot 57 per cent in the second, the latter total getting a huge boost when Dhillon, later selected the tournament’s MVP, started the game’s defining run when he drained a triple with 5:29 remaining that pulled his team into the lead at 51-49.
Just 14 seconds later, Gurlal Mann counted a hoop for a 54-49 lead, and just over a minute later the run continued when Grade 10 forward Gurkaran Mangat sunk a tough turnaround lay-in in the paint for a 56-49 lead.
Then, with 1:50 remaining, Dhillon scored again for a 61-52 lead, and although one of the more slight athletes on the team, he ran down the baseline and up one side of the court, flexing his arms in strongman fashion to the delight of the Hurricanes’ ample cheering section.
“For four years, I have been dreaming about this day,” Dhillon added. “Now, we finally got it done and it feels amazing.”
The team’s primary ball-handler finished the day shooting 12-of-30 from the field and 4-of-5 from the stripe, totaling 30 points. Mangat had 20 on 7-of-11 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds. And Aman Dhillon finished with nine points.
Hansen head coach Steve Twele, a disciple of mental preparation, had his team in a classroom all season talking about the power of the mind.
“We met at the school and then before this game,” he said of continuing the process right through the postseason. “We sat in a classroom and we talked about mental toughness, and how whichever team was emotionally in control would win.”
The rally came on the heels of the Titans building their largest lead of the game at 10 points early in the third quarter.
South Kamloops was a worthy foe and led for almost 29 of the game’s 40 minutes.
Titans’ Grade 11 guard Nick Sarai led them with 18 points, while Quin Adam added 16 and 14 rebounds, Reid Jansen 12 points and centre Ripley Martin, a 6-foot-7 Grade 11, added 11 points.
The loss had the Titans in tears.
But head coach Tim Unaegbu said that the experience would steel his core of rising seniors and Grade 11’s to make another run at the title in 2018.
“We’re a young team, and that means we’re resilient,” he said. “I don’t even have to say anything. They will all be in the gym tomorrow. I kid you not. Our young guys saw what they had to do and what it is going to take, and they don’t like losing.
“We started to play tedious near the end,” he continued, “and they (Rick Hansen) are a hell of a team. They drove at us and our help wasn’t there. Fatigue creeps up at the end and when (Rick Hansen) was down by as much as they were, they had nothing to lose. That is the scary part.”
South Kam’s Jansen, the team’s starting point guard, was named the tournament’s top defensive player.
First all-stars: Seckin Topac (Bodwell), Anders Cederberg (Nanaimo Dist.), Cameron Morris (St. Thomas More), Sarai (South Kamloops) and Adam (South Kamloops).
Second-team all-stars: Bithow Wan (Byrne Creek), Nate Friesen (Robert Bateman), Aman Dhillon (Rick Hansen), Peter Chae (Lord Byng), Fardaws Aimaq (Steveston-London).
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