LANGLEY — A pair of B.C. junior boys basketball coaches who discovered a while back how much they love to engage each other in deep discussion of the game have been making a habit of chatting over the phone a few nights each week during the season.
That those two happen to be Vancouver College Fighting Irish head coach Ryan Shams and Burnaby South Rebels head coach Rupi Dahia might not sound too extraordinary, except for the fact that on Tuesday evening (7 p.m.), the two men will lead their respective teams onto the floor to oppose each other in the championship game of 52nd annual B.C. junior boys championship tournament at the Langley Events Centre.
No. 3 Burnaby South beat Vancouver’s St. Patrick’s Celtics, the champs from 2020, 55-44, while No. 1 seed Vancouver College worn down Victoria’s No. 5-seeded Oak Bay Bays en route to a 71-56 triumph.
From 32 teams on Saturday morning to just two following Monday’s semifinal, and what were the chances that Shams and Dahia would be the last two coaches standing?
“That was the one team I didn’t want to play… I am good buddies with Rupi,” laughed Shams, whose Irish beat the Rebels earlier this season and come into the final with a perfect 30-0 record on the season.
“We actually talk on the phone three-to-four nights a week,” continued Shams. “We give each other the scouting reports, and now we’re coming together to play each other. When the bracket first came out, I joked to him and I said ‘See you in the finals.’”
The Irish haven’t won it all since 2010 when it repeated as title-holders to cap a span of three championships in four seasons.
The fact they’re coming in as the favourites in 2022 is a surprise to no one following the junior boys game in B.C.
On Monday, Oak Bay played the Irish tougher than anyone has in the tournament, yet VC’s depth, despite losing starting guard Finn Teasdale to injury in the first quarter, was simply too much for the Bays to contend with.
Vancouver College just kept on coming, and although only five players found the scoresheet, four of them hit double-digits, led by 6-foot forward Cole Pryputsch, a football player whose opportunistic, board-crashing ways made you believe the gridiron was actually his second sport.
Cole has put in the work over the offseason,” said Shams of his leading scorer who finished with 20 points. “He’s super-athletic, he can finish at the rim. He kind of does it all and he is our unsung hero. He grabs every rebound.”
Fellow guards Aidan Lear and Vince Velasquez added 17 and 12 points respectively. Roko Maric, the 6-foot-8 forward, scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
Oak Bay’s top foursome on the night was stellar until the Irish got on a roll midway through the third quarter to put the game away.
Forward Finnley Lillis was tough inside to the tune of 14 points, while guard Toren Franklin hit three triples and finished with a team-high 15.
Guard Diem Orser scored 12 points while wing Tyler Browne added eight.
Burnaby South won with a similar mindset.
In a game filled with swings, it was the Rebels who somehow found a final kick, breaking a 42-42 tie to go on a game-closing 13-2 run enroute to the 55-44 win.
“I am speechless right now, that was a hell of a battle,” said Rebels coach Dahia. “We were confident we would make a run. We’ve done it all tournament long, those 10-to-12 points runs. Tonight, we adjusted our defence and we did it.”
As has been the case all week, Burnaby South found its energy in the form of its 5-foot-9 Grade 10 forward Lordrikk Gutierrez, who scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.
“We call him our silent warrior, he’s our Charles Barkley,” Dahia said of his team’s version of the undersized, do-it-all scoring and rebounding presence that Barkley was throughout his career in the NBA.
“When he’s on the court, I am never worried because I know he will be composed and make the shots when they matter,” Dahia added. “He might not be the most vocal guy, but his style of play sets the tone for us.”
Despite throwing himself into the physical fray each and every time he hits the court, Gutierrez is seemingly never the worse for wear.
“Ever since we’ve been really young, we’ve always been playing small ball,” began Gutierrez. “Always in the paint, and always against all of these six-footers, all these tall guys. But it’s so fun to be physical down there, hustling against all the bigger guys. It gets us all hyped up.”
Well, based on the size different between the Rebels and much taller and longer Irish, Gutierrez should be in for the time of his life.
On Monday, St. Pat’s Jovin Sunner scored 17 points and his teammate Danny Geppert another 11.
Meanwhile, South point guard Roan Mendoza, added 17 in the win.
Said Dahia of the Irish: “I wanted a game against VC because they beat us earlier and they’re undefeated. I wanted that David vs. Goliath where you get your chance to take down Goliath.”
The question now becomes, after chatting with each other about everybody else’s teams all season, are the pair going to forego a call before Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tip-off?
“I don’t know, we’ll see what happens,” Shams laughed when pressed. “I will guess that maybe Rupi will give me a call tonight. I know he will be prepared. I know what Burnaby South are about and they are going to have a game plan. It’s going to be rocking tomorrow night for sure.”
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