One more sleep til the The Big Dance tips off.
For me, it’s a day to reflect on the greatness of our game, to appreciate the efforts of our coaches and players at all four tiers, and to try offer a sampling of stories which I feel touch on why this time of year is so special and meaningful to so many.
With that in mind, here’s 10 things to sleep on before we gather for another four days of madness:
This is a true story.
The leading scorer on the Triple A No. 12-seeded Steveston London Sharks had only a season ago retired from the game to become the squad’s manager.
In December of his 2017-18 Grade 11 season, Ethan Wight, a 6-foot-2 forward-turned-manager, was on the floor during halftime a game at a tournament in Duncan, shooting around and waiting for his teammates to come back from the locker room.
He was knocking down so many shots that a coach from the host Cowichan Thunderbirds team asked him why he wasn’t playing.
“He was a big reason why we got as far as we did last year,” said SLSS head coach Mike Stoneburgh, whose 2017-18 edition lost to Sir Charles Tupper, this season’s No. 1 seed, in a sudden-elimination, winner-to-B.C.’s game.
And ever since he decided to come back, Wight’s just gotten better and better.
He averaged 17.8 points and 12.1 rebounds over the course of the season, but through February did not have a game under 20 points.
Both Wight and fellow senior Marco Wong, a 5-foot-9 guard averaging 12.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds, joined the team as 10th graders and thus spent one season (2016-17) at the provincials with then-senior big man Fardaws Aimaq, this season a 6-foot-11 freshman at NCAA Div. 1 Mercer.
Stoneburgh, who led SLSS to the 2015 B.C. title game, says some of his most rewarding coaching experiences have come this season.
“We’ve have some talented teams in the past, but this year’s team is a bunch of kids who have just worked so hard and bought into the game plan,” said the coach, whose team was never ranked this season but has begun to peak at the perfect time with a cast of players that also includes the likes of seniors Umer Shahzad and Kouki Kawano.
The Sharks will get all they can handle and more when they open Wednesday against the No. 5-seed G.W. Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack.
A HECK OF A HOBBY
When we say the best athletic talent in the province will be on display over the next four days, the number of talented football players who also excel on the hard-court are some of the first names that come to mind.
Guys like Vancouver College’s outstanding defensive back Jason Soriano, and Vernon’s Grade 11 and 12 quarterbacks Thomas Hyett and Zack Smith.
But volleyball is also represented in a pretty substantial way.
Abbotsford Christian’s Cole Brandsma is not your average 6-foot-7 forward with a 19.9 ppg scoring average, along with seven rebounds and five blocks per game.
He also happens to be Varsity Letters’ B.C. boys high school volleyball Player of the Year, and he’s headed to a next-level career in U Sports’ as the prime recruit of UBC’s volleyball Thunderbirds.
Brandsma led Abby Christian to the B.C. Double A volleyball title in December.
“He plays basketball for fun,” smiles Abby Christian head coach Keith Stewart.
Zac Meinen and Ben Rogers are also a big part of the Fraser Valley Double A’s second-place hoops finisher.
Now, as the No. 13 seed, they will get all they can handle from the Howe Sound champions, Gibson’s No. 4-seeded Elphinstone Cougars in one of Wednesday’s 8:30 a.m. openers.
Let’s tip our hats to a quartet of first-time provincial tournament qualifiers!
Vernon Christian’s Royals had never made the dance until this season’s 15-8 squad pulled the trick for head coach Robere Gingras, and considering the school has been around for some 53 years, it’s quite an accomplishment.
The 6-foot-7 Devin Hofsink has averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Single-A school this season, which comes in as a No. 5 seed and tangles with No. 12 Nanaimo Christian in a 1:15 p.m. opening-round game on Wednesday.
And Nanaimo Christian, led by Alex Bloedern and Matthew Morris are, believe it or not, also playing in their first-ever B.C. tournament.
It’s also the case for Gudangaay Tiaats’gaa Nay, the Haida Gwaii squad from Masset, which is coached by former G.P. Vanier star Calvin Westbrook
Back in 2006, Westbrook set the top-tiered tournament’s record for scoring average at 44.5 ppg and it still stands.
Curiously enough, Westbrook coaches a Grade 11 guard named Devan Boyko who averaged 45 ppg at the zone championships and was an all-star in the All-Native tournament playing in the 21-and-under division.
Finally, at Triple A, there’s Richmond’s A.R. MacNeill Ravens, who swung open their doors in Richmond back in 2003, and now in their 15th year, have made the dance.
“It’s been a remarkable run for our graduating players,” says head coach Steward Siy, whose team missed the playoffs last season, and two seasons ago finished fourth in Richmond, missing out on the Vancouver and Districts.
That’s hardly the kind of resume anyone would have thought would lead to a 29-3 record, second place at the Lower Mainland Triple A’s, and the B.C. tournament’s No. 6 seed, which the Ravens proudly carry into Wednesday’s 10 a.m. clash against No. 11-seeded Robert Bateman of Abbotsford.
The team is led by guard Usman Tung and guard Jackson Thackwray, who have combined to average about 30 points-per-game this season.
IT’S JUST TOO GOOD
The Kitsilano Blue Demons, seeded No. 2 overall in the Quad A field and set to meet No. 15 Heritage Woods out of Port Moody in a 10 a.m. tourney opener Wednesday, having been the fastest rising team on the board, at any tier, across the province.
In January they weren’t even a ranked or honourable mention team, and they were just hoping they would find their chemistry.
Once they did, they re-paid the belief that head coach Sylvester Noel had in them by catching fire and beatinng Vancouver College to win the Lower Mainland title.
Of course when you chart the process of hard work and team chemistry and realize it was why Kits got so hot late in the year, it’s especially refreshing too see what came across my desk today.
It was an e-mail with a couple of photos attached that couldn’t be a better example of why Kits came together so quickly once all if their pieces were healthy and in line.
There’s a grainy photo of centre Everest Jaggs (left) and guard Owen Cutler as they appeared back in the fourth grade as aspiring Blue Demons at Queen Mary Elementary, and then another as they appeared this season.
These are the kinds of before-and-after reminders of sacrifice and perseverance that we so often forget about, but are captured forever by legions of parents and loved ones who offer their encouragement from the earliest of ages.
It’s the kind of stuff we need to continue to celebrate, especially this week.
NO. 2 SEEDS
Kitsilano, interestingly enough, is the only No. 2 seed this week from the Lower Mainland-Fraser Valley power base, and that is good news for the growth of the game outside of the most highly-populated zones.
There’s No. 2 Vernon at Triple A, No. 2 Kelowna Christian at Single A, and then is Prince George’s No. 2 D.P. Todd Trojans at Double A, installed as the on-paper favourite to advance to Saturday’s championship final against fellow on-paper favourite, the powerhouse and No. 1 seeded Charles Hays Rainmaker of Prince Rupert.
Considering the Trojans lost to the Rainmakers by a competitive 56-48 score back in early January, better than most Quad A teams which have faced the Prince Ruper juggernaut, you know head coach Greg Sale’s bunch is filled with quality.
With a 21-9 record this season, D.P. Todd is led by Grade 11 guard Cameron Sale, who might be one of the most under-rated scorers in B.C.
There’s also 6-foot-6 centre Chris Magrat and other stalwarts like Randy Sandhu and Holden Black.
“They are solid,” says Duchess Park head coach Jordan Yu, whose Triple A Condors are in Langley for provincials, but won’t have to oppose the Trojans like they did during the regular season. “They have some pieces. One through five they are solid. They have two 6-foot-6 type guys, they play inside-out basketball and Cam Sale, he is one of the deadliest shooters I’ve seen in B.C. this year. From anywhere on the court he is going to shoot it.”
D.P. Todd gets No. 15 Pacific Academy of Surrey in an 11:45 a.m. game on Wednesday.
AN APPRECIATION OF SOREN
When I snapped the picture of Duchess Park Condors’ guard Soren Erricson you see above, he was just returning from a concussion in mid-January at the St. Thomas More Chancellor tournament.
What a player, and by that, I mean in the total sense: Talented scorer, selfless leader. The whole package.
When I saw Duchess Park head coach Jordan Yu on Tuesday at the Triple A team shoot-arounds, we had to talk a little S.E.
“He is one of the greatest leaders I have ever had the pleasure of coaching, and by leader, I mean that he is a great teammate, he scores but he also does everything else outside of scoring,” says Yu. “You give him the toughest defensive assignment and he takes it and doesn’t care if it means he is only going to score five points. Whatever the team needs.”
Yu, the ex-UBC point guard, felt that when Erricson returned to the line-up, the domino effect of his presence helped the squad in every facet of play, right down to maximizing the team’s ability to get its best defensive match-ups.
“We’re not a terribly tall team,” added Yu, “so any chance we get to even out the playing field is great. We have some long guards and good overall length from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-4, and having Soren back for our defensive match-ups has really helped a guy like Dan Zimmerman (6-foot-4, and a blue-chip defender).”
And speaking of the injury bug, the Condors were hit hard. When they got everyone back, however, all they did was make the finals of the Harry Ainlay Titans invitational in Edmonton.
Duchess Park (27-5), the No 4 seed and one of the teams to beat in a super deep field of Triple A teams, gets down to business at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, opening against Terrace’s No. 13 seeded Caledonia Kermodes.
The 2019 championships mark key anniversaries within the history of B.C.’s top tier of competition.
It’s been 50 years (1969) since Victoria and head coach Porky Andrews defeated head coach Gary Taylor and Oak Bay38-37 in the last all-Victoria B.C. final.
It’s been 40 years (1979) since the Burnaby South Rebels won their first B.C. championship, as head coach Mike Jones and Co. defeated Bill Disbrow’s Richmond Colts 65-47. Burnaby South ended the drought last year and could well add a repeat title by Saturday night.
It’s 30 years (1989) since Rich Goulet’s Pitt Meadows Marauders took down the neighbouring Maple Ridge Ramblers, coached by Ken Dockendorf, in a 58-57 thriller.
It’s been a quarter-century (1994) since Rich Chambers coached the Terry Fox Ravens to the school’s second straight title, a 73-66 win over Disbrow’s Richmond Colts.
It’s been 10 years (2009) since the St.George’s Saints beat the Vancouver College 63-62 after Grade 11 guard Emerson Murray hit a 15-foot jumper with 2.6 seconds remaining to steal victory from an Irish team whose title drought sits at 52 years coming in.
THE HARD-HAT AWARD
North Vancouver’s Seycove Seyhawks are the winners here.
“This team battled a near-catastrophic number of injuries and that really affected our overall record,” says head coach Peter Matthews, whose 12-14 team nonetheless found a way to become the first at the school to make back-to-back B.C. tournament appearances.
And when Matthews says they were banged up, it’s not just the players who wound up in sick bey.
“At one point we had eight of our 12 players either injured or ill, as well the coaching staff,” said Matthews. “I had a torn bicep, and our assistant coaches suffered a broken foot and concussion. It looked like we were all in a bus accident. A tough season but boys fought hard to get back.”
Leading that charge was Dylon Matthews, the B.C. U-17 point guard who came back from his injuries to average 21 points and 10 rebounds per game through the Howe Sound playoffs.
Douglas Musselman, the senior wing averages 19 points, and Logan Sommerville 16 points and 11 boards.
In the Howe Sound playoffs, the Seyhawks lost two overtime games against zone champ Elphinstone, and Matthews feels his team got better because a zone which produced four ranked teams this season provided no easy games.
MY QUADS HURT!
The two quadrants I would never have even dreamed of seeing at the midway mark of this season became reality when the draws were released Sunday.
Topping them all has to be the very top group of four at Triple A.
No. 1 Sir Charles Tupper is certainly the favourite against No. 16 Mark Isfeld in their 3 p.m. opening-round clash but the Ice have a master tactician behind the chalkboard in veteran head coach in Tom Elwood and, over the course of a 22-0 start to their season, produced three high double-digit scorers led by the 20.5 ppg of Thaskani Mtawaki.
But were things get really crazy is when Burnaby’s No. 8 Byrne Creek meet No. 9 North Delta in a 7:45 p.m. tip-off to end the first day. These are two talented, proud and gutsy teams who by the will of the basketball gods have been gutted by injury to varying degrees.
North Delta’s has been the most publicized, with Suraj Gahir, the tier’s most explosive scorer, being forced to deal with an extended injury heading into the tournament.
Both Byrne Creek and North Delta spent time at No. 1 in the Triple A rankings this season, and here they are in a current foursome with Tupper, who occupy that position heading into the tournament.
The other quad that has everyone talking?
It’s most certainly at Quad A where No. 4 Vancouver College and No. 5 Burnaby South could well face each other in a Thursday quarterfinal (8:15 p.m.) if the on-paper seeds hold.
Of course the way things have gone of late, nothing is guaranteed, especially with the way their two first-round foes performed over the stretch drive.
No. 4 Vancouver College gets No. 13 Centennial (4:30 p.m.) and No. 5 Burnaby South gets No.12 Walnut Grove (12 noon).
Centennial’s Dominic Parolin and Walnut Grove’s Jarret Jacobs will certainly do all they can to preserve the seasons of their respective teams.
A FUN AFTERNOON
I stolled over to the Langley Events Centre’s South Court today during team shootarounds for one specific purpose: To talk to a young player who managed a pretty incredible scoring feat earlier this season.
Only thing is, he lives in a pretty isolated part of the province, and thus virtually no one knows what he did! The only hint I’ll give you: He’s not Diego Maffia. Stay tuned!
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