ABBOTSFORD — Two decades ago, they were a team without a place to call their basketball home.
Yet so tight was their bond and so clear was their intent that even without an actual gym in which to foster a home-court advantage, the 1999-2000 University College of the Fraser Valley Cascades men’s basketball team never lacked for an identity.
On Friday, twenty years later, those boys are back in town.
And this time around, before they are inducted into the University of the Fraser Valley’s Cascades Hall of Fame, they will have walked through the gym doors of the school’s own Envision Financial Athletic Centre.
From Friday forward, it becomes the gym that the 1999-2000 team never had, the place they can now collectively call their true basketball home.
“It all started with that 2000 team,” said former Cascades’ men’s head coach Pat Lee, who guided a most curious and talented collection of players that season to the school’s first-ever national title at the CCAA championships in Edmonton.
“Back then, we didn’t even have a gym,” continued Lee, whose team played its BCCAA league games in the high school gym at neighbouring St. John Brebeuf and “practised all over the place.
“But it’s not how fancy the gym is that matters,” continued Lee, 69. “It’s what you do in the facility that matters. So we didn’t have a gym? I used to get upset about, but I got over it.”
Instead, Lee focused on the things that mattered most: Teamwork, dedication and the bond of a team, which if you’re lucky like he was, lasts forever.
And if it’s symmetry you’re looking for heading into Friday, the basketball gods could not have co-operated more.
The induction ceremony is being held at halftime of the featured 8 p.m. men’s game between the Cascades (11-5) and the visiting, undefeated, defending national champion Calgary Dinos (16-0).
First consider the fact that Pat Lee was a rough-and-rugged Canada West all-star forward with the Dinos in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Also consider the fact that as a high school player newly-located to Abbotsford in the late 1990s, Fraser Valley Cascades’ head coach Adam Friesen would often scrimmage around town with soon-to-be members of that UCFV national title team.
With all of that said, could there be a thicker atmosphere and a more deserving list of invited VIP’s than these pioneering Cascades?
A MOST UNLIKELY SUPERSTAR
Dissect enough championship rosters, and you begin to understand the role that fate can play in their construction.
To get deep into the details of how the UCFV Cascades rounded into a national title contender, you first need to hop a plane headed to Australia in July of 1996 with the Abbotsford Panthers’ senior boys basketball team and its then-head coach Jinder Sarowa.
This was a summer tour, kind of like a precursor to today’s top club basketball excursions, but with stops not only Down Under, but in Hawaii and Fiji as well.
“Most of the players on our team were in Grade 10 and 11,” remembers Sarowa, these days the principal at Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary, the alma mater of Cascades’ head coach Friesen. “We played a team in Sydney, and we won by a slight margin, but we just couldn’t stop this short, little guard.
“After the game, we were chatting with the opposing coach and I said in a joking manner ‘If we had a guy like your guard, we would be a very good team,’” continued Sarowa. “He told me that the kid was in Grade 9, and then he said ‘You can take him. His dad would love it if he could move to Canada or the U.S. and play basketball.’”
Turns out it was more than just idle chatter.
When the 1996-97 school year began at Abby Secondary, Sarowa saw that very player, a tough-minded, 5-foot-8 southpaw point guard named Wayne Jones, strolling through the hallways.
“This kid was stronger, quicker, more skilled and more mature than most grade 12’s,” Sarowa says. “The rest is history.”
After playing three seasons at Abbotsford, Jones, along with his high school teammate Pat McKay, both wound up playing for Lee on the UCFV roster.
Jones, in fact, was just a freshman when he joined the Cascades for that pivotal 1999-2000 season.
It was a team that also featured Mike Lee, the coach’s son; as well as Aaron Wells, Jarami Reid and Tycson Boult, the latter the team’s energetic, spiritual leader.
McKay would spell Boult on most occasions, and there was also Ryan Haviland, Mike McLaverty, Jamie Armstrong, Ryan Dick, Dan Young, Anthony Toth and Brad Petersen, the latter currently the head coach of B.C.’s Quad-A No. 3-ranked Terry Fox Ravens.
Pat Lee was assisted by Tom Antil, and the team was managed by Aiden Kelly.
“We had such a quality team that on any given night, a guy could go off for 30 or 40 points,” remembers McKay, who would later play for the UBC Thunderbirds. “We were so deep that Wayne was our leading scorer at 15 points per game, and I was second at about 13. But it really was like next man up in the NBA. On any night, any one of us could go off, and how do you stop that?”
Yet at the heart of it all was Jones, a player so talented that despite the complete non-existence of social media still found his way from the BCCAA’s relative backwaters onto the radars of major U.S. college programs.
“The year that we won the championship, he lived with me,” McKay remembers of Jones, who was picked the CCAA championship MVP. “There were multiple Div. 1 schools after him. I can remember one day answering the phone at my place, and it was Villanova calling asking for Wayne. I said to the guy, ‘Did you want Pat McKay?’ and he said ‘No, Wayne Jones.’”
All these years later, the mere mention of that name to those in the know seems to accelerate pulse rates.
Pat Lee: “Wayne Jones was the best player in Canada for a year, as a rookie, as a freshman.”
Mike Lee: “He was the smallest guy on our team, but it’s not over-stepping things to say that he literally put us on his shoulders during the national championships.”
Jinder Sarowa: “Steve Nash was an amazing high school player, and of course, even better in the NCAA and NBA. But Wayne was equally as good in high school.”
THE BCCAA’S SUPER-POWER ERA
To get to where they wanted to go, the Cascades first had to get over their biggest hurdle, and that was the dynastic Langara College Falcons, coached during that 1999-2000 season for the final time by current UBC men’s head coach Kevin Hanson.
Over his nine years behind the bench, Hanson had led Langara to five BCCAA league titles and two national crowns.
The Cascades had opened their championship season with a 13-0 burst, one which included an early-season 87-77 win over the Falcons.
Langara, however, put the lone blemish on UCFV’s 15-1 regular-season record with an 88-79 win late in the campaign.
That set the stage for the rubber match, won 79-76 by the Cascades in the BCCAA championship final, and it was a victory which punched UCFV’s tickets to the CCAA nationals in Edmonton.
“Once we got over the fear that we were playing Kevin Hanson and the Langara Falcons and we beat them,” says Lee, “we thought we could beat anyone in the world.”
Lee talks with a reverence and a respect for that era of the BCCAA, and for the way that Hanson created a standard that set the bar for his program’s goals.
Aaron Mitchell, that season a CCAA all-Canadian with the Falcons, and who later starred with the Brandon Bobcats, remembers not only the tenor of the rivalry that season, but the overall level of excellence in a league pre-CIS/U Sport expansion.
“I remember (UCFV) being super-talented and super-deep,” says Mitchell, these days the head coach of the senior varsity at Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate.
“Tycson Boult was their grinder defensive guy, and I always remember that it was he and Pat McKay who would guard me. They face-guarded and made it physical and they were a challenge.
“They had a lot of swagger, too, but when you look at how many of their guys went on to the next level, they were like a CIS team that year in terms of their talent.”
Both UCFV and Langara qualified for the nationals, and the two could well have met again, this time in the national final.
However as the Falcons were losing their semifinal 86-81 to the Humber Hawks, the Cascades were beating the Dawson College Blues 97-85.
All these years later, Pat Lee may have forgotten a lot of scores from games past, but not the one from their national title win over Humber.
“It was 63-57 and this is it in a nutshell,” the loquacious Lee begins. “We’re playing a super athletic team out of Toronto we’re just getting hammered. It was like 24-4. Someone called a time-out, the music started blaring, and I look up and I see all this dancing and high-fiving. I stopped my guys and told them to look, and then I said ‘Is that what you want to remember about this game?’ They all looked at each, played some defence, and we were up at the half.”
AT LAST, A HOME SWEET HOME
If you think there is a blue-collar background lurking in the playing resume of Pat Lee, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.
In his final CIAU season with the Dinos in 1978-79, the 6-foot-3 Lee not only averaged 15.1 points per game, he was also named a Canada West first-team all-star and led the conference in rebounding (third in CIAU) at 9.1 caroms per contest.
And while he won’t say it directly, his 1999-2000 national champions were a team built on the values he has always held in the highest regard.
“The thing about that 2000 team I am most proud of is that it showed that a small school could be successful if you just recruited the right kinds of kids,” Lee said. “Kids with the same mindset. They didn’t all have to be the best in B.C. But they had to have the mindset to work hard, play defence and decide that winning together was more important than individual glory.”
And now, 20 years later, the old coach, who keeps busy these days running the B.C. Bounce basketball academy with son Mike, is ready to welcome all of his old boys back to town, including Mike McLaverty who is flying in from Ireland, and Wayne Jones who is making the trip back to Abbotsford from Australia.
So a generation later, what is Lee’s most endearing memory of the school’s first-ever national champions?
“After the buzzer went in that final game, I can remember Tycson Boult, our unsung leader, leaping off the bench and leading the charge onto the floor,” Lee begins, setting the stage for that moment’s true significance.
“Here’s a guy who started for us, but didn’t finish games. He didn’t care. It was not about him getting his points. That whole scene for me, at the end of the game, was how none of this was about any individual. It was totally about a team where no one cared who scored, no one cared who got the glory. Someone caught that in a picture I have in my archives somewhere, and to me, it told the story of the whole journey. All they wanted to do was win.”
That’s why Friday is going to be so special.
Twenty years later, the boys are back in town, and this time, to a place they can call their real basketball home…a place where they will be remembered forever.
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