LANGLEY — On Tuesday night, the game clock at the Langley Event Centre’s South Court tried its best to tell Zeru Abera that it was time to panic.
It flashed the fact that only 11 seconds remained in a classic B.C. junior boys championship game tied at 42-42 between Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Knights and the Tamanawis Wildcats of Surrey.
And as it began to tick away the last breath of an entire season, it seemed to know that its pending expiration would somehow bring out the best in a kid who loves the game too much to ever get flustered.
Closely guarded by Tamanawis’ Anand Sidhu, Abera (a-Bear-ah) quickly spotted a fast-closing double-team in his path courtesy of the Wildcats’ Sayvic Dhami.
Flipping his gears into reverse, he crossed over from a left-hand dribble to a right-handed one, and using a screen from teammate Logan Ball, he drove hard, dead-centre through the top of the key where another Tamanawis defender, Victor Cortel, lay in perfect position to shut him down.
Undaunted, Abera came to a jump stop just across the free throw line, and with both Cortel and Dhami doubling down on him with fully extended arms, he somehow let go a 14-footer with an arc so perfect it would have made Dr. Naismith cry like a baby.
Swoosh. Just 2.4 seconds remaining.
And a breath later, exultation, as the Kids from Kingsway stormed the court on the heels of an epic 44-42 win.
Yes, the No. 11 Knights and their own No. 11 Abera, for the fourth game in a row here at the 53rd annual JV gathering, had beaten a higher-seeded team. This time the No. 1 team.
And if the geometry of a perfect shot wasn’t enough, how about the symmetry of a title delivered exactly 35 years after the Knights’ last one, way back in 1988.
Who says hoops karma’s not real?
“It was clock going down, they were pressing me, right?” said Abera, remarkably calm just minutes after his moment. “I came down off a screen and the clock was going down and I just put it up… a hand in my face. What a memorable moment. I will never forget it.”
Contested in front of a sold-out crowd of about 1,200 fans at the South Court, this prelude on the very eve of March Madness made sure that it would play second fiddle to no one.
Down 37-21 to the Knights late in the third quarter, the Wildcats mounted a ferocious 18-2 run. Cortel’s lay-in off a bullet dime from Tammy ’s star 6-foot-4 guard Tray Bellanger (team-high 20 points) knotted the score at 39-39 with 1:40 remaining.
STM guard Jacob Oreta (eight points) sunk a huge three with 1:25 left to restore his team’s lead at 42-39. Yet the Wildcats’ Sunny Dhami sunk a three of his own with 1:01 left to tie it 42-42, setting the stage for Abera’s heroics.
“I just feel like we have one of the best players in the province and they ccouldn’t guard him,” said an elated STM head coach Corbin Castres of Abera.
“And we’ve seen this the entire year, how he is just disgusting from the mid-range,” added Castres of the lost art of shooting anything with consistency within the confines of the three-point arc. “Kudos to Zeru. He is an incredible talent.”
Amd, not surprisingly, the MVP as well.
Yet everything about the Knights’ magical run to the title screamed fable.
What else can you say when a No. 11 seeed beats, in order, No. 6 Rick Hansen of Abbotsford, No. 3 Burnaby South, No. 7 Brookswood of Langley, and then finally, No. 1 Tamanawis.
And, of course, if you can do that, why wouldn’t you have a 5-foot-7 guard with the kind of floppy, flowing locks that would make both Steve Nash and Pete Maravich proud, named the tournament’s Best Defensive Player?
It’s your turn to take the floor Isaac Jimenez.
“We lost to Tamanwis earlier in the year, in the first round of the Emerald at Vancouver College, and we lost to Burnaby South. I think they all wrote us off. I think everyone overlooked us. But they didn’t look at our team.”
Yet maybe there is something about the fact that their coach, himself an 11th man on his senior varsity team, was able to imbue in his players such a sense of belief that once they got on a roll, they became the kind of team that no expiring game clock could ever intimidate.
“We knew,” said Abera with the kind of cocksure belief that only a 15- or 16-year-old could ever pull off. “We believed from the start that we were a No. 1 team, and man, we just showed it. All the hard work over winter break and those four-hour practices… man.”
And so 35 years after the St. Thomas More Knights last captured the 1988 B.C. junior boys title, they did it again.
In fact there is a Socials 10 teacher at STM named Darrin McCormick who played on that team, and would later coach Castres as an eighth-grader.
“I’m going to take his class next year,” promised Jimenez.
“He texted me before the game,” added Castres of McCormick, “and he told me to go out and win… and join the club.”
On Tuesday, they all did.
And in the tradition of the most enduring championshiup memories, everything they did, including their last shot of the season, came against everyone’s odds but their own.
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