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Gyms bounce back to life as boys high school basketball tips off

After a season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, boys high school basketball is back. Here's how the Tri-City teams stack up.
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Centre K.C. Ibekwe, who's 6'9", will be a big force for the Centennial Centaurs senior boys basketball team this season.

The gyms are alive with the sounds of basketball.

After being silenced for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, the hardwood floors at high schools around the Tri-Cities are once again reverberating with the pounding of bouncing balls, the squeaks of rubber-soled high-tops and the shrill notes of the referees’ whistles.

For the next few weeks, it’s game on as the senior boys’ teams embark on their pre-season schedules of tournaments and exhibition clashes ahead of the start of league games in January.

For some coaches, the resumption of play is a full-court press into unknown territory as players lost interest or moved onto other activities through their months away from basketball.

For others, it’s a chance to put to the test the resilience and dedication of the players who stuck it out with individual workouts.

Chris Davies, who co-coaches the Pinetree Timberwolves along with Kevin Nelson, said the pandemic pause was tough on several of his players. Some walked away due to the uncertainty of when they’d be able to play again. But others embraced the opportunity to work on their skills and fitness without the pressure of having to perform in games.

Their process was helped along by social and emotional support from Nelson, who’s also a counsellor at the school.

“For many players, the pandemic caused them to lose some of their identity in basketball,” Davies said.

Veteran coach Rich Chambers, of the Terry Fox Ravens, said his players took inspiration from the young athlete for whom the school is named to get through the drudgery of almost two years of skill development.

“The fact that Terry Fox is our model shapes everything we do in the athletic arena,” he said. “We try to emulate the traits [he] demonstrated in his Marathon of Hope.”

Up at Centennial Secondary, co-coach Lucian Sauciuc said enthusiasm among the senior Centaurs never really flagged, especially for the grade 10 and 11 players looking to step up their game.

“The players were very keen, so we were in the gym three days a week almost the entire season working on skill development,” Sauciuc said.

Riverside Rapids coach Raj Kothary said his charges got through their forced hiatus by sticking together.

“We know we have a special group of players that are all very close friends off the court as well,” he said, adding that keeping workouts fun and fast-paced with elements like shooting competitions and developing new skills helped keep their energy high.

Still, the constant cascade of bad news as public health restrictions waned then tightened again was tough to endure.

“The hardest part was communicating the uncertainty and cancellations,” he said. “Our main goal was to ensure the love of the game wasn’t lost within our players.”

Roberto Arciaga, coach of the Gleneagle Talons, said his players had extra motivation as they prepared for the school’s return to senior ball after the team took a year away prior to the pandemic to allow the program to rebuild and re-energize.

As a result, he said, they’ve been especially eager to get going.

“My players were determined to find a way to continue to play during restrictions,” Arciaga said. “We did whatever was necessary.”

That included drills outdoors during the spring and summer. Several players also participated in club leagues.

Club play was a boon at Dr. Charles Best Secondary as well, where many players took to the court at the Excel program, which happens to be guided by Blue Devils coach Daniel Depelteau.

As a result, some are so happy to test their skills at the school gym again, it’s hard to get them off the court so they can do their school work and rest their bodies, Depelteau said.

Heritage Woods Kodiaks coach Andrew Lloyd said his players haven’t taken their feet off the gas since November 2020, channeling the energy they would have expended in games into countless hours of training, working on strength and conditioning.

“They enjoy playing and just being around the fellas,” he said, adding team meals and other social activities that were organized when public health restrictions eased helped solidify their bond.

Here’s what to look for this season:

Centennial Centaurs

“We have a nice mix of grade 11 and 12 boys and we feel that we should be able to compete with any team in the province,” said Centaurs co-coach Lucian Sauciuc.

Leading the way Centennial will be big man K.C. Ibekwe, whose 6’9” stature will be tough for opponents to displace underneath the basket.

Guard Nick Yang may be nine inches shorter than his looming teammate, but his fierce determination to drive the baseline will drive the Centaurs’ offence.

Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils

What Daniel Depelteau’s Blue Devils lack in size, they’ll make up with experience.

Best’s veteran lineup features four seniors and eight juniors that will have to play with speed at both ends of the floor to achieve success, said Depelteau.

Grade 12 guard Lucas Adams will steer the ship. Depelteau calls him “a hard-nose-in-your-face player” who will “turn a lot of eyes.”

Another Grade 12 player, Soren Lewis, is a small forward who will be counted on to command both ends of the court from the centre position. But, Depelteau said, “he’s up for the challenge.”

They’ll be supported by Grade 11 diamonds in the rough: sharpshooter Aleks Kriznik, power forward Mateo Gallant and jack-of-all-trades Anthony Depelteau.

Gleneagle Talons

A year off from the senior league followed by the pandemic pause has Talons’ coach Roberto Arciaga and his players champing at the bit to get going.

The team will be led by a pair of captains: Grade 12 point guard Javier Sy-Quia and senior guard/forward Sharif Hebrahim.

Arciaga said he’ll be counting on the duo to “inspire their teammates to bring their best to each game they play.”

Most importantly, though, Arciaga said the absence of senior ball at Gleneagle for more than two years has given his crew a sense of mission.

“They’ve bonded through tough times and have formed a brotherhood that supports them playing as a unit,” he said. “This team has great chemistry.”

Heritage Woods Kodiaks

Kodiaks’ coach Andrew Lloyd said whatever his charges achieve will come from their heads, leaning on an intelligent approach to understand the nuances of basketball.

“Our foundation is our defence,” Lloyd said, adding he expects each player to have a full understanding of their role in the success of the group.

“We come to expect certain things from certain players because of their different skill sets.”

Pinetree Timberwolves

Pinetree co-coach Chris Davies has assembled a large group of players who are eager to get going after some of their early preparation was disrupted by the flooding in the Fraser Valley that prevented a few warm-up games from happening.

From the pool of 19 players, Davies expects senior guards Martin Vermes and Vill Silva to step into leadership roles, while Grade 12 forward Austin Tarko gives the Timberwolves some size inside with the ability to finish plays under pressure.

Riverside Rapids

A strong junior team two years ago is now the core of Raj Kothary’s senior Rapids, and he’s expecting big things.

“We play with a lot of trust in each other and share the ball well,” said Kothary. “We hope to be right in the fight this year.”

One of the key contributors leading the team will be Grade 12 forward Benito Reed, and Kothary doesn’t mince words about his captain.

“Benito is one of the top players in the province and will do everything in his power to help his team win games.”

Supporting Reed will be Grade 12 wing Kieran Allen, who has the capability to lock games down on defence, and senior point guard Angelo Macaraig, who brings energy at both ends of the court.

Terry Fox Ravens

Fox coach Rich Chambers expects his team won’t round into form until January — prime time to stay in the mix of what he considers the toughest league in the province.

Driving the team’s aggressive, up-tempo style will be seniors Graham Stack and Andrei Baiasbas who will be supported by a dynamic contingent of junior forwards: Lukas Bulin, Christian Moore, Sukhraj Garsha and Parker Kennedy. Juniors Titus Heron and Matteo Frost will be counted on for guard duties.

Port Moody Blues

Did not respond by the Tri-City News’ deadline.