(Due to technical difficulties encountered here at VarsityLetters.ca over the past two weeks, several stories, including this one, had not been posted here on our main site, which is now back to being fully operational as of Feb. 17, 2020. We thank you for your patience and your continued loyalty to B.C.’s most trusted source for high school and university sports. While some elements of this story were written with an eye to upcoming events now passed, we wanted to present all stories in their original form.)
‘NORTH DELTA — Along our journey to determining the single greatest team in the 75-year history of the B.C. senior boys high school basketball championships, some interesting trends have developed.
For example, as we headed into this week’s Sweet 16 games, we’ve begun to notice how great teams break down between the decades.
Missing from our field of 16 teams were the entire decade of the 1960s, and the so-called ‘aughts’ from 2000-09, In addition, the last four years of the 1940s were not represented.
That gave us two teams from the 1950s and 2010s, and four each from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
And if you’re wondering, based on the results we are about to unveil below, if there has been something akin to an actual ‘golden era’ of the game in this province, it appears to have taken place from the early 1970s into the early stages of the 1980s.
Of course that is open to debate, and as we’ve progressed down this road, we have heard plenty of compelling arguments at every turn, including some of the most vociferous coming in our opening round of 64.
Let the debates continue to rage.
By the way, social media voting certainly showed the passionate fan bases which surrounded Duchess Park, St. Michaels University School and Aldergrove.
Varsity Letters did not take part in the selection of the original group of 64 teams nor has it taken part in the weekly selections.
Here’s the latest round of picks from the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association’s 75th anniversary selection committee:
SIDE 1 DRAW
No. 1 Nanaimo District (1978) vs. No. 4 Kitsilano (1997)
The skinny — The fantasy basketball gods seemed to be leaning towards Kitsilano heading into this contest, given the fact that the contest was being played at GM Place, where in the real world, Vancouver’s Blue Demons won every game they played there over two seasons, including the 1997 game over Maple Ridge which made them just the fourth school in 52 years to repeat as champs.
Let’s pretend that Nanaimo head coach John Levering was able to get his hands on some game tape of that 62-52 win over Ken Dockendorf’s Ramblers.
He’d have not only seen the 20 points of 6-foot-9 Sandy Bisaro, the 16 of Keith Bustard and the 13 of 6-foot-7 Etienne Orr-Ewing, but also the 14 rebounds of 6-foot-5 Grade 11 Tim O’Connor.
“The better team won,” Ramblers’ boss Dockendorf told The Vancouver Sun afterwards. “What happens is they have three big kids there and they wear you down. They get all the rebounds, so you can’t get anything easy inside. They force you to take hard shots from outside. More than you want to. And that’s really the story of the game. In the second half their defence just got better.”
Of course, putting their game against a gold-standard team like the Islanders was sure to be a challenge.
We’ve talked the past few weeks about how dialled in the ’78 Nanaimo squad was reputed to be, and in this fantasy match-up, it was all the ways in which star player Gerald Kazanowski continued to involve his teammates.
Many talk of the 28 points he scored in the 1978 title-game win over Oak Bay, yet this week, the committee played up his playmaking ability as well, especially the ways in which he got the team’s fast-break on a roll, feeding players like Mark Spees for easier, quick-strike hoops.
Over 40 years ago, Nanaimo beat a Bays team with some size, and 35 combined rebounds from Kelly Dukeshire and Ken Kirzinger. They needed and got the same effort inside to turn back Bisaro, Orr-Ewing, O’Connor and Bustard to win a classic.
FINAL SCORE: Nanaimo 74 Kitsilano 69
No. 3 North Surrey (1976) vs. No. 2 Lester Pearson (1956)
The skinny — We referenced earlier a golden age for the game in our province, and if it indeed was a span of time which covered the entirety of the 1970s, then the 1976 North Surrey Spartans were part of its best vintage.
Interestingly enough, the 60th anniversary fantasy bracket produced in 2005 also had these Spartans winning their Sweet 16 game as they topped the 1959 Victoria Totems.
In this match-up against the mighty Lester Pearson Mikes of New Westminster, the Spartans go in as the underdog. And remember as well, in that 2005 best-ever bracket, Pearson went right to the final before losing to Richmond 1988.
On this night, however, cavernous GM Place proves a little intimidating for the 1950s Royal City crew as their shooting game is a little off to begin.
As well, as the Mikes set up in their 2-3 zone defence, the Spartans find a way to get their share of touches inside, and that is enough for the 6-foot-11 Bob Dudley and the 6-foot-7 Charles Olsen to get on a roll.
Both of these teams played in an era before the introduction of the three-point shot, yet the Mikes’ guard group of Ken Winslade, Dave MacDonald and Ron Rebagliatti were fearsome, and in concert with teammates Don Krego and George Grozier, they were able to keep things close right to the end.
FINAL SCORE: North Surrey 64 Lester Pearson 58
No. 1 Kelowna (2016) vs. No. 5 Aldergrove (1995)
The skinny — It’s not very often where just minutes after a team wins a title that they are so quickly anoited as an all-time team.
Yet such was the case with the 2016 Kelowna Owls, who with minutes left in the first half of its title clash with Surrey’s outstanding Tamanwis Wildcats were already ahead by 23 points and set to cap a perfect season against B.C. competition.
Afterwards, Tammy head coach Mike McKay told me: “I’ve been at every provincial tournament for the last 18 years and they were as dominant over the rest of the field as anybody. It’s hard to compare year-to-year, but I think you have to put them right up there.”
The highlight of this fantasy clash, played at UBC’s venerable War Memorial Gymnasium, was the chance to see tough-as-nails Aldergrove, and its stars Randy Nohr and James Maksymiw match wits with a Kelowna team featuring the likes of Parker Simson, Matt Lafontaine, Mason Bourcier and Grant Shephard.
In the end, the committee felt Kelowna was simply too deep and talented to be denied.
FINAL SCORE: Kelowna 83 Aldergrove 71
No. 6 Mission (1954) vs. No. 3 Abbotsford (1983)
The skinny — Size can always be a final arbiter of outcome on the court, yet in this case, the evidence was so compelling in favour of the higher-seeded Panthers who nonetheless share a lineage with an Eastern Fraser Valley juggernaut from Mission which did much to make the region one of the province’s true high school basketball hotbeds.
In this fantasy clash, War Gym is packed, and it’s pretty clear that Panthers’ fans are making the majority of noise, just like they did both in 1982 and ’83 when the school won the Spirit Award in back-to-back years at provincials.
“I can remember that for the provincial final in 1983, we took 10-to-12 bus loads of students from Abbotsford to the Agrodome for the title game,” Abby coach Norm Bradley told me earlier this month. “Our fans were amazing.”
So, too, where the Abbotsford players.
And while much has been rightly made of the frontcourt prowess of Panthers’ bigs Dave Lescheid and Larry Clarkson, Abbotsford boasted a very special point guard in the late Chico Duncan, who in that 1982-83 season was a 5-foot-10, Grade 12 standout.
For Mission head coach Charlie McPherson and star John Kootnekoff, who won their 1954 title at War Gym, the 1983 Panthers prove to be a little too much.
FINAL SCORE: Abbotsford 79 Mission 64
SIDE 2 DRAW
No. 1 Richmond (1988) vs. No. 5 Walnut Grove (2013)
The skinny — You don’t need to look at the seedings to know that the ’88 Colts and ’13 Gators, separated by exactly a quarter of a century, are worthy champs in their own right.
In fact this fantasy clash produced two of the best-ever UBC guards in Richmond’s Brian Tait and Grove’s Jadon Cohee, both NCAA D1 players who elected to come north and finish their collegiate careers at War Memorial Gym.
Yet the 1988 Colts, picked B.C.’s best-ever team in 2005’s 60th anniversary bracket, were the team with the broader overall skill base when you consider the impact of fellow stars Ron Putzi (New Mexico State) and Joey deWit (Lethbridge) had in keeping the back-to-back champion Colts undefeated against B.C. competition for two straight seasons.
FINAL SCORE: Richmond 88 Walnut Grove 84
No. 2 Terry Fox (1993) vs. No. 3 North Delta (1971)
The skinny — On personal note, as a 1981 North Delta grad, the committee’s choice stung a little here. Not going to lie.
Not only did they choose the 1993 Ravens (whom I wrote plenty about during my earlier days at The Province newspaper) to beat the 1971 Huskies in a fantasy showdown at the PNE Agrodome, Terry Fox went to overtime in the actual 1993 final and beat another tremendous Huskies team.
In that ’93 final, in fact, there may have been more future professional football players taking part in a B.C. high school basketball final than I can ever remember.
We’re talking about three CFL standouts in Terry Fox’s Bret Anderson and Chris Szarka, and North Delta’s Davis Sanchez.
That 1993 final, a rematch of the Fraser Valley final won by North Delta, was as tight as you could get, and to this day, its star power continues to resonate.
The Huskies, had 6-foot-10 senior dunk king Sean Ramjagsingh, and the Ravens a host of other stars including its Grade 11s Vic Grigore and 6-foot-8 Dave Morgan.
The Ravens, spurred by the legend of their school’s iconic namesake, seemed to have destiny on their side that season for coaches Don Van Os and Rich Chambers.
And as a result, they edge the 1971 Huskies, led by Dave Coutu, Mike McNeill, John Buis and coach Stan Stewardson in a close battle.
FINAL SCORE: Terry Fox 81 North Delta 78
No. 1 St. Michaels University School (1992) vs. No. 4 Centennial (1972)
The skinny — Trivia! Who were the four other players named to the 1992 first all-star team at the B.C. AAA championships alongside Steve Nash, who was also picked the MVP?
Answer: West Van’s Todd Humphries, Vancouver College’s Tyler Thompson, Scott Walton of Pitt Meadows and Abbotsford’s Mitch Trotman.
None of that has anything to do with our fantasy matchup between Nash’s 1992 SMUS Blue Devils, and the 1972 Lars Hansen-led Centennial Centaurs, yet everything about that 1992 season, now 28 years in the rearview mirror, is of course fascinating to examine as a launching point for one of Canada’s greatest ever sportsmen.
The 75th anniversary committee, however, decided to lean a different way.
Despite the absolute dominance of the 1992 SMUS squad, they elected to go with the 1972 Centaurs, and the 6-foot-10 Hansen, who wound up dominating the inside en route to the title.
Centennial, of course, beat North Delta in that 1972 final by a dominant 60-40 score, yet the Huskies had proven that Hansen could be slowed.
In the Fraser Valley final, North Delta went 1-2-1 defensively with its fifth player assigned specifically to Hansen. It worked. Hansen scored just 11 points, and the Huskies won 53-52.
In the B.C. final, however, North Delta’s man-to-man sagging defence did not work, Hansen scored 39 points, and the rest is history.
Against SMUS, in this rarest of fantasy clashes featuring two future NBA players, the Centaurs keep coming up with ways to make Hansen an unstoppable force against the smaller Blue Devils, and they eventually come away victorious.
FINAL SCORE: Centennial 70 SMUS 66
No. 6 Duchess Park (1980) vs. No. 7 Pitt Meadows (1989)
The skinny — Until the Kelowna Owls did what they did in 2016, it had been a very long time since a team from outside of the traditional Lower Mainland-North Shore, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island power base had won a top-tiered senior varsity B.C. boys basketball title.
The Duchess Park Condors of Prince George, however, became just the second team to ever do it (after the 1964 Prince Rupert Rainmakers) when they beat Nanaimo 57-40 in the 1980 title game.
Imagine no teams from outside of the traditional power base repeating the feat until the Owls did it 36 years later.
And… like those Owls, the Condors came into the B.C. tourney in 1980 as the No. 1-ranked team.
Indeed, the Condors were a special team, led by first-team all-star Karl Bush, and second-team all-stars Brian Fenkel, Mike Suderman and Kent Stanley.
If its clash with the 1989 Pitt Meadows Marauders, led by SFU-bound point guard Derek Welsh, was a coin flip before fantasy tip-off, once the game got underway, the Condors were deemed too good to be denied.
And in the end, the team which opened the 1980s with a title edged the team which closed the same decade with one of its own.
FINAL SCORE: Duchess Park 64 Pitt Meadows 61
Next week’s Elite 8 Draw (below) will feature three 1970s teams, and five of them represent a mere 12-year span between 1972 and 1983.
1 Nanaimo 1978 vs. 3 North Surrey (1976)
1 Kelowna (2016) vs. 3 Abbotsford (1983)
1 Richmond (1988) vs. 2 Terry Fox (1993)
4 Centennial (1972) vs. 6 Duchess Park (1980)
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.