PORT COQUITLAM — Oh how far they have come in just 12 months.
A year ago, at this very juncture of December, one week into the 2017-18 season, the Terry Fox Ravens were preparing for the opening round of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational as the only unranked Quad A team in the elite 16-team field.
Of course all they proceeded to do was advance to TBI’s Final Four, spring-boarding themselves to a most rewarding season of growth as a largely-Grade 11 team.
Fast-forward 52 weeks to this Thursday, and it’s a senior-laden conspiracy of Ravens who open (1:45 p.m. vs. W.J. Mouat) at the TBI on the Langley Event Centre’s centre court under an entirely different identity: Provincial Quad-A title contenders. (full draw below)
“Absolutely,” Terry Fox head coach Brad Petersen answered emphatically on Monday afternoon when asked if last season’s late-peak at the Fraser Valley championships and subsequent B.C. Quad A tourney berth gave his team the kinds of indispensable intangibles which have already served the team well in 2018-19.
“We can already see last year paying off,” continued Petersen, whose preseason No. 4 Ravens beat No. 2 Holy Cross to advance to the semifinals of this past weekend’s Kodiak Classic at Heritage Woods Secondary. “When you play in those kinds of tight, pressure games, I can see that the maturity they gained has carried over into making better decisions in crunch time.”
Certainly the loss of 6-foot-8 rising senior forward Noah Current to the prep ranks has been felt.
Yet the organic response has been to play to the strengths of a guard group, conservatively five-deep in blue-chip talent, along with combative, wide-bodied 6-foot-3 forward Grady Stanyer.
It’s foolhardy to get too carried away this early when referencing that group to a program which has churned out tremendous back-court players for over a quarter-century.
Yet it can’t be denied that if their development continues at the same rate it has in the past year, that by the time March rolls around, that the quintet could be looked upon as perhaps the deepest and most talented the program has produced.
Any discussion has to begin with Jacob Mand, the 6-foot senior and team captain.
“He is the straw that stirs the drink,” says Petersen of a player that both he and co-coach Mark Prinster agree can’t be judged solely by his numbers.
Take the Ravens’ season opener last Tuesday.
Mand got into early foul trouble and didn’t play in the second quarter as Terry Fox went down by 16 at Vancouver College. Upon his second-half return however, he led a surge that resulted in what was ultimately a 23-point swing in an 81-74 victory over the No. 7 Irish.
“When he came back in he changed the game,” said Petersen. “He is a commanding presence, and on top of all that he is a talented offensive player and an in-your-face defender. In our exit meetings last year, I told him that he needed to become a better rebounder and already we’ve seen that.”
Fellow senior guard David Chien is a contrasting presence, but a presence nonetheless.
“He has a game that is very hard to describe,” laughs Petersen.”It’s very crafty, and he’s a headsy player. I have a lot of trust in him and I don’t like to take him off the floor.”
Cerebral and instinctive, Chien is the kind of player who seems to go from quiet to loud in a hurry, whether that be poking away a ball from the opposition, jumping into the lane for a steal or spying an angle others might not to make a surprising cross-court pass.
The other member of the rotation’s top-end returnees is Grade 11 Ko Takahashi, who after gaining his confidence with a starter’s role late last season might have been the team’s best guard through the Fraser Valley championships.
Yet it’s been two key additions which have pushed the guard group into new territory.
Senior Jaden De Leon sat out last season on a transfer from Burnaby South, where he last played as a member of the Rebels’ 2017 B.C. junior varsity champions with the likes of current Rebels seniors like Kyle Kirmaic, Baltej Sohal and Jio Khan..
“Jaden is a huge piece of this year’s team,” adds Petersen of the compact guard. “He has shown me a lot in his ability to fit in with this group and he plays a leadership role. I trust him with the ball in his hands and he can really defend.”
There is, as well, a coming-of-age story in 6-foot-1 Grade 10 guard Cam Slaymaker, who spent last season with JV’s, learning the game from a pair a veteran coaching staff that included Rich Chambers and Don Van Os.
“Slaymaker is special player and on many nights he could be our best player,” Petersen begins of a player with deep family roots in the sport. “This kid is smart beyond his years and he has handled the physical nature of senior varsity basketball.”
Those 36 points he scored in a win against No. 3 Lord Tweedsmuir at the Kodiak Classic seemed to confirm all of that.
“He lets the game come to him,” adds the coach. “He’s just that unselfish player who never seems to make the wrong decision.”
Yet while the Ravens have the potential to do some good things, that guard group won’t be able to simply play off the post.
They will be entrusted to set tempo and tone on an every-game basis, and their success will enhance what big man Stanyer is able to do down low.
“Grady is a huge key this year, that rock in the middle,” says Petersen. “He is 6-4 on a good day, but he is a load to handle. He’s a wide-body who knows how to move his feet really well, and his touch around the rim just keeps improving. The best way I can describe him is that he is hard to play against.”
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