OAK BAY 73 KELOWNA 47
LANGLEY — High school basketball’s version of spring reawakening doesn’t follow the standard calendar of the four seasons.
Instead, it welcomes its own kind of re-birth in the early weeks of December, that time when the gymnasium, like the backyard garden, sprouts the new possibilities of the months to follow.
On Saturday, that garden was Centre Court at the Langley Events Centre, and by the time Victoria’s No. 6-ranked Oak Bay Bays had produced a remarkably complete 73-47 victory over the No. 10 Kelowna Owls in the grand finale of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, head coach Chris Franklin couldn’t help but be impressed with the budding growth of his suddenly 8-0 team, impressive as much for its rookie seedlings as for its hardier and more tested varieties.
“Right now, it’s just a matter of making them a team,” said Franklin of his Bays, led at the top by its veteran seniors like Griffin Arnatt and Matthew Magnan, its returning Grade 11s like Heath Taylor and Owen Lewis, and its seedlings which included powerful first-year varsity Grade 11 forward Finley Lillis and the sneaky, lethal Grade 10 guard Toren Franklin.
“They are really buying into the idea of becoming a team, gathering together, helping each other up, being positive on the bench,” Franklin continued of all that goes into creating a winning bond. “It’s nice to see that growth… and to see it so early.”
In Saturday’s final, despite some of that aforementioned rapid early-season growth, the Bays could still see the forest for the trees.
A Kelowna team filled with dangerous, penetrating guard types likes of Nash Semeniuk and Walker Sodaro, the seemingly out-of-nowhere 6-foot-11 senior post Owen Keyes and the wide-bodied 6-foot-6 forward Nate Smith knew all too well its equation for success would hinge on establishing the inside to thrive on the outside.
And vice versa.
Yet the Bays clogged the paint and the Owls, in turn, were never able to bring the kind of rhythm to their vaunted their shooting game, one which would have allowed them to dictate the tempo and the terms of the game.
“We’re a good shooting team and we’ll be a good shooting team in the future,” said Kelowna head coach Harry Parmar afterwards. “(Oak Bay) took away the lane and we had a tough time hitting shots. You hit shots and the lane opens up. You don’t hit shots and the lane closes.”
So, no surprises here.
Although no official box score was produced, a simple eye test told you that the Owls were about as ice cold as possible, especially from the three-point base-line corners.
Franklin applauded his seniors — led by Griffin Arnatt and Matthew Magnan — for taking on their assignments.
“Both Griff and Matthew, they do a lot of really small things that add up in the end,” began the coach of the dual 6-foot-4 seniors guards who also never turn away from going inside. “Matthew came out and guarded Semeniuk who was having a fantastic tourney. Griff just seemed to grab every loose rebound there was on the planet.
“Even though Griff didn’t have a great scoring game today, he helped us with the press break, he rebounded the ball, he guarded big No. 23 (Nate Smith) and Matthew took it to the rim hard. We can sometimes go sideways against a good pressing team like Kelowna, but (Arnatt and Magnan) just wouldn’t let us.”
Oak Bay led with its stingy defence to the tune of 22-10 at the quarter, then 38-23 at the half. It didn’t allow more than 13 points in any quarter.
Magnan finished with 11 points, while Arnatt added another eight, a modest total for the latter, who was nonetheless chosen the tournament’s MVP for just what his coach said were “… all the small things that add up in the end.”
Arnatt, who scored 32 points the night before in an 85-70 win over Vancouver College, also grabbed 12 rebounds Saturday, while dishing seven assists to go along with a pair of steals.
He also produced the team’s highest plus-minus on the night at plus-31, averaging 18.3 ppg over his four TBI games, all of course, coming on the championship side of the draw.
The two Bays Grade 11s who came to the varsity last season as Grade 10s showed themselves to be right on their intended growth paths.
Guard Heath Taylor had 13 points, while 6-foot-7 Owen Lewis showed signed of becoming a dominant inside force, going 8-of-11 from the field for team highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds, as well as a plus-21 rating. Lewis, who runs the floor like a gazelle, averaged 15.8 ppg at TBI.
And Grade 10 rookie guard Toren Franklin, selected the championship game MVP, finished with nine points after hitting three triples, to go along with four assists, seven steals and a plus-29 rating.
Kelowna’s summary didn’t have quite the shine.
With the paint clogged by the likes of the Bays’ Magnan, Lillis and Lewis, and its jump-shooting game sputtering, Semeniuk was held to a team-high 11 points, all coming before he slipped in the half court without duress and suffered a sprained ankle in the second half.
Somehow, it seemed emblematic of a night when one of the two teams found itself doing nothing but trying to roll that proverbial boulder up the slope of an unforgiving hill.
Although Semeniuk was gutsy in his return, he could not affect the game the way he had the night before in the semifinals when he scored 24 points to lead his team past Burnaby South. Sodaro added 11 while Keyes — the subject of much opposition attention — was held to five points, including a three-pointer in the fourth quarter with the game already well decided.
The Bays headed back to Victoria on Sunday morning, where they will prepare to host their annual Gary Taylor Invitational through the weekend.
MVP Arnatt can’t wait.
In the what would have been the off-season of his COVID-cancelled Grade 10 season, in the spring of 2021, Arnatt suffered a stress fracture in his foot which basically sidelined him for eight months.
He returned to the court in December of that year but would later suffer an ankle injury at provincials, making his Grade 11 campaign frustrating enough that he was never able to fully hit his stride.
“He had a lot of issues with luck,” admitted coach Franklin. “Bad luck. So because of that people didn’t really even know about him.”
Now, he developing into one of the province’s most dynamic seniors.
“It was a general process of always being positive and confident that I would get back because of the hard work I put in and confidence my teammates had in me,” added Arnatt after accepting his MVP hardware Saturday.
“I just love playing and being a leader… I want our team to win, so I try help in whatever way possible,” he said.
In the third-place game, a gutsy Burnaby South Rebels squad twice erased deficits in the 20-point margin but fell short in the end to the Vancouver College Fighting Irish 74-60 who received superb play from guard Mikyle Malabuyoc.
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at email@example.com.