KELOWNA — Like every head coach hosting an invitational tournament, the one accepted advantage is the built-in ability to schedule as cushy a first-round opponent as is possible.
So what are the Kelowna Owls doing in the opening round of their annual, eight-team Western Canada Invitational match-making themselves against the No. 2-ranked team from Manitoba’s largest Quad-A tier?
“We didn’t set this tournament up to play cupcakes,” says Harry Parmar, head coach of B.C.’s No. 3-ranked Quad-A Owls, who will open against Winnipeg’s Sturgeon Heights Huskies on Thursday (7:30 p.m.).
“I think at this time of year, you want to play as many different styles as you can, and maybe try some of the things you’ve been hiding… bring out your full repertoire,” adds Parmar.
If the entire field of eight does just that, expect expansive and entertaining hoops for three straight days at Western Canada 2020.
From B.C.’s largest tier, the Quad-A No. 1 Burnaby South Rebels, No. 3 Kelowna Owls, North Vancouver’s No. 4 Handsworth Royals, and No. 6 St. George’s Saints of Vancouver will be matched against out-of-province foes in an opening-day menu that truly lives up to the tournament’s Western Canada moniker (full draw below).
At 1:45 p.m., All Saints out of Calgary, a second-year program and a Quad-A honourable mention, faces a Burnaby South team coming in with a 24-2 record against B.C. competition this season.
At 3:30 p.m., the Alberta Quad-A No. 4 Harry Ainlay Titans of Edmonton clash with a well-drilled Handsworth team which earlier this season, won the prestigious BRIT Invitational by beating Alberta Quad-A No. 3 Raymond in the final.
Interestingly enough, Raymond is a part of the Western Canada field, and at 5:15 p.m. faces a St. George’s team which will be just shy of 48 hours past its mega-finale Independent clash against the Vancouver College Fighting Irish.
All of that counts down to the evening’s 7:30 p.m. finale between the Owls and the Huskies.
Count Burnaby South head coach Mike Bell a huge fan of both the Western Canada’s varied geographic field, and its timing in the season.
“At this time of the year, you need to play different teams, and you need great competition,” said Bell, who perhaps along with Parmar, has best exemplified over the past handful of seasons, how to continuously build chemistry and continuity into a team headed for a playoff run.
“Last year, we played a very tough Vincent Massey (Fort Gary, Man.) there, and we love the fact that we are going to get some great battles,” added Bell. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get through the snow.”
In the case of battling figurative bad weather as it applies to the health of its roster, the Rebels have been a case study in perseverance this season.
Getting 6-foot-10 Sasha Vujisic back into the lineup in the new year following an off-season leg fracture has been a big success, yet as he has gained familiarity playing in the front court with 6-foot-7 Grade 10 Karan Aujla, other adversities have beset the squad.
At the recent Abbotsford Snowball Invitational (Jan. 15-18), in which the Rebels beat former No. 1 Centennial 80-63 in semifinals before falling 75-69 to Rolling Hills (Ca.) in the final, Burnaby South came out of the tournament smarting, with Grade 11 guards Justin Sunga and Jareb Pineda both injured.
Sunga, one of the province’s elite backcourt talents, rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Snowball final, while Pineda re-aggravated a back injury he first suffered in December at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
“But we should be fully healthy for this tournament,” Bell said. “Sasha and Karan are playing nicely together. Both of them see the pass before the shot, and the kids just overall are playing so unselfishly.”
As far as the Owls are concerned, they are bringing a similar plot line into the season’s final major invitational.
“For us, we had our full team for the first time at the Snowball,” said Parmar, whose team had finally welcomed back Hunter Simson, yet then had to cope with an injury to Jonathon Haughton.
“Hunter’s out, then Jonny’s out, but now I think we’re coming back and we’re starting to turn a corner,” added Parmar.”
If the B.C. contingent was somehow able to get past its out-of-province foes en masse in the first round, something not likely to happen, then a pair of rematches would be on tap.
In a Nov. 30 game which closed out the Heritage Woods Kodiak Classic in Port Moody on the season’s opening weekend, Burnaby South had one of those rare 10-out-of-10 shooting days in a 90-50 win over a Handsworth team which hasn’t lost since, including a 66-61 win over Raymond in the BRIT final.
Interestingly enough, at the Kodiak Classic, Burnaby South’s two other foes were the same two remaining B.C. schools which will play at Western Canada this weekend.
The Rebels also beat St. George’s 90-62 in the opening round, then beat Kelowna 76-62 in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, St. George’s came through with a 67-57 first-round win over Kelowna Jan. 9 at the Terry Fox Legal Beagle in Port Coquitlam.
The only other game involving the four B.C. teams at Western Canada?
Kelowna beat Burnaby South 78-77 in a semifinal classic Dec. 6 in the TBI semifinals at the Langley Events Centre.
WESTERN CANADA INVITATIONAL
(Feb. 6-8 at Kelowna Secondary)
TOP HALF DRAW
1:45 p.m. — Calgary-All Saints vs. Burnaby South
3:30 p.m. — Edmonton-Harry Ainlay vs. Handsworth
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
5:15 p.m. — Raymond (Alta.) vs. St. George’s
7:30 p.m. — Winnipeg-Sturgeon Heights vs. Kelowna
5:15 p.m. — top-half winners
7:30 p.m. — bottom-half winners
5:15 p.m. — third-place final
7:30 p.m. — championship final
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