The Centennial Centaurs’ eighth place finish at the recent BC High School AAAA boys basketball championships may not have lived up to the team’s second-place ranking heading into the tournament.
But several kilometres away from the Langley Events Centre, a group of lifelong supporters celebrated anyway.
Players from the 1972 Centaurs’ team that was the school’s only boys side to ever win the provincial senior basketball title gathered last Friday (March 11) at the Vancouver Golf Club to renew acquaintances and catch up.
It was 50 years to the night this group of now senior citizens tasted the sweetest victory of their young lives, defeating the defending champions, North Delta Huskies, 60-40, in front of almost 10,000 screaming fans, friends and family at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
“It was like a chill ran down your back,” said Greg Hoskins, Centennial’s 6’4” power forward, of the atmosphere that long-ago night. “It was amazing.”
As much as the game was for provincial basketball bragging rights, it was also an opportunity for the Centaurs to avenge an earlier setback by one point to the Huskies in the Fraser Valley playoffs.
North Delta was a basketball powerhouse, having rolled through teams like Abbotsford, MEI and North Surrey that were stacked with big men to win the 1971 championship. Heading into the ’72 final, they’d only lost twice all season.
Huskies coach, the late Stan Stewardson who went on to guide the Simon Fraser University men’s team for several years, had said many of Centennial’s players weren’t good enough to make his squad.
LARS HANSEN WENT ON TO PLAY IN THE NBA
And the one who was, towering centre Lars Hansen, had been stymied in the Fraser Valleys by North Delta’s strategy to double-team him with a defender in front and behind.
Hansen, who starred at the University of Washington and then played professionally in Europe as well as one season with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics, said Stewardson’s assessment stung the Centaurs.
“I don’t think there were any doubters on that team,” he said. “We had a confidence. Our physicality was better than North Delta’s”
Hansen, who’d yet to commit to a post-secondary program, said he’d already been battle-hardened by playing in basketball camps in the United States where he had to overcome the coverage of some of that country’s best high school players.
“That set me up to come back bigger and stronger and a clear idea of what basketball was all about.”
John Buis, who played for North Delta and then went on to a long career with the RCMP that included a stretch in Coquitlam, said the Huskies knew to repeat as champions they had to stop Hansen.
“He was a pretty big guy,” said Buis of the 6’10” star. “He was the key guy.”
As the Centaurs and Huskies careened through the AA tournament’s preliminary rounds on a collision course with each other, anticipation for the showdown grew.
Hoskins said Centennial’s crowded halls were abuzz with excitement that spread throughout Coquitlam as everyone got behind the team from the city’s only high school at the time.
HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIPS A BIG DEAL
Buis said the high school basketball championship was a focal point of the Lower Mainland’s winter sporting scene, commanding pages of attention in all three of Vancouver’s daily newspapers — the Province, Sun and Columbian.
“That was the event to go to,” he said, adding the Huskies’ status as defending champions brought with it its own pressure.
Centennial jumped out to a 12–9 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the teams were tied at 24 when they retreated to their dressing rooms at half time.
Hansen accounted for 21 of the Centaurs’ points.
“With a guy like Lars, you just had to get him the ball and he would take over,” said Hoskins.
“We just couldn’t stop Lars,” recalled Buis. “He had one of those nights.”
By the final whistle, Hansen had scored 39 points, the most that had ever been scored in the championship to that point.
He was named the tournament’s most valuable player, reprising the honour he’s also earned the year before when the Centaurs made it to the semifinals.
Hansen said despite appearances on the score sheet, he didn’t win the provincial title alone.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way the guys played,” he said, pointing out while his teammates crashed the boards and fought for rebounds. “They just left the scoring to me.”
CENTENNIAL PLAYERS' BOND ENDURES
Hoskins said the bond between the players transcended their roles on the basketball court.
“There was a lot of friendships amongst the team,” he said.
Hansen added, “I thoroughly enjoyed the way everyone accepted their roles. There was no animosity.”
Fifty years later, the bond remains strong.
In addition to the players and coach Gordon Betcher, who’s still alive and spry at 87 years old, several of the school’s cheerleading squad also attended the reunion.
“People don’t really change that much,” said Hoskins. “We just get old.”
For Buis, the experience of two consecutive appearances in the provincial championship launched a lifelong passion to pass that opportunity on to subsequent generations as the tournament’s director for many years.
“The experience was one I’ll never forget,” he said. “It took me into the next phase of my life.”
THE MEMBERS OF THE 1972 CENTENNIAL CENTAURS:
- Rob Davidson, guard
- Terry Uotuk, guard
- Mitchell Dudoward, guard
- Art Abram, guard
- Gary Holte, guard
- George Musseau, forward
- Dave Bedwell, guard
- Greg Hoskins, forward
- Al Godin, guard
- Brian Fulton, forward
- Arnold Anderson, centre
- Lars Hansen, centre
- Gordon Betcher, coach
- Scott McNab, manager