High hoops, new path to provincials

The AAAA boys basketball landscape has changed.

So has the geography.

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Teams from the Tri-Cities will now have to travel through Burnaby and New Westminster to reach the provincial championships.

That makes the post-season a bit of a mystery, with strong competition from the likes of top-ranked Burnaby South Rebels and the New Westminster Hyacks for the three berths available to the Fraser North zone.

“It will be tougher,” said Raj Kothary, coach of the Riverside Rapids.

“It will be a battle,” said the coach of the Heritage Woods Kodiaks, Gregory Schellenberg.

Not that any of the local teams aren’t up for the challenge. And with three of them getting attention in pre-season provincial rankings, it’s going to be competitive to reach the bright lights of the Langley Events Centre in March.

Here’s how the senior boys teams in the Tri-Cities stack up:

CENTENNIAL CENTAURS

Centennial coach Rob Sollero said his crew is “very excited” to get the season started — as well they should be, ranked fourth in the province in the pre-season poll, with plenty of upside to go even higher.

A big part of that potential is 6’8” Dominic Parolin, a dynamic forward who spent the off-season improving his game by playing elite club basketball and starring for the provincial U17 team.

“He can do everything: run the break, handle the ball, play inside the paint and knock down threes from the perimeter,” Sollero said of Parolin. “I honestly feel he is one of the top players in B.C.”

Parolin’s supporting cast is also strong.

His provincial teammate, combo guard Leif Skelding, is “an excellent shooter, playmaker and ball handler,” Sollero said, while point guard Terry Cho has another year of maturity in him after he was moved up from Centennial’s junior team late last season.

Other players to watch include guard Braeden Markiewicz and 6’5” Paul Didenko, who joins the team after sitting out his Grade 11 season. Sollero called him “determined and extremely hard working.”

Even the Centaurs’ coaching staff has been bolstered, as Sollero will be joined on the bench by the veteran skipper of the school’s senior girls' team, Lucian Sauciuc.

Sollero said everyone has “high expectations for this season.”

TERRY FOX RAVENS

Last year, the Ravens lived up to their fourth-place ranking in the pre-season by finishing in just that spot at the provincial championships in March.

With his team slotted seventh heading into this season, coach Brad Petersen hopes history doesn’t repeat itself.

It could be a tall order as several key players from last year’s squad, including Jacob Mand, Grady Stanyer, David Chien and Jaden DeLeon, have moved on.

Shouldering the workload will now fall to Grade 11 guard Cam Slaymaker and a trio of seniors: Ko Takahashi, Joao Coimbra and Jake McFarland.

None of them are particularly big so, Petersen said, they’ll have to parlay their speed, athleticism and hustle into a lunch-bucket work ethic.

The Port Coquitlam team, he said, will be “fighting for rebounds and pressuring the ball on the perimeter.”

HERITAGE WOODS KODIAKS

Just like their namesake, the Kodiaks are big — maybe the biggest collection of basketball players the team has ever had, said head coach Gregory Schellenberg.

They’re also experienced. The seniors were part of the team that finished fifth at last year’s provincials and the juniors who’ve moved up also played in their provincial tournament, where they placed 17th.

Schellenberg said his core group of Grade 12 players, which includes guard Chris Moon and forwards Morgan Liski and Nik Bartulin, has the motivation and intensity to make up for the loss of last year’s team leaders, Zach Hamed and Arshia Movassaghi.

To build their resilience, Schellenberg challenged them with a pre-season trip to Maui and a  tournament-tough schedule now that they’re back.

“We want our guys to learn to play through adversity and get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said.

RIVERSIDE RAPIDS

Riverside coach Raj Kothary said his squad might just surprise some people this season, noting the Rapids are more mature and much deeper in every position, with a well-rounded attack.

Leading the offence will be point guard Reman Rodrigues, an “athletic player that can play inside and out,” Kothary said.

He’ll be supported by Josh Mitchell, Jesse Lee and Jacob Mitchell while Kothary also expects junior player Ben Reed to turn heads when he gets a chance to play with the big boys.

Kothary said the longer pre-season schedule before league play begins will give his squad a chance to develop some chemistry.

DR. CHARLES BEST BLUE DEVILS

Coach Daniel Depeltau has given up his gig also coaching the Best senior girls' team, so his focus is solely on his boys, and he likes what he sees.

“We have a nice mix of six Grade 12s and six Grade 11s,” Depeltau said. “Our team this year has some decent size up front.”

Three starters from last year’s team are back. They’re led by captain Ethan Price, who, Depeltau said, has “expanded his game” to play stronger on the perimeter. Grade 12 Connor Daucey will be counted upon for his shooting skills and Grade 11 Naveed Abdollahi will be expected to drive the point forward position.

PINETREE TIMBERWOLVES

Pinetree coach Eugene Melnyk concedes his Timberwolves face a number of challenges this season.

“Our team looks quite young and inexperienced,” he said.

They’re also without star forward and top scorer David Mutabazi, who left the school.

Melnyk said that means the team will have to reinvent itself to compensate for his scoring prowess by relying on speed to score points from primary or secondary fast breaks.

“Conditioning and stamina will be key elements as well as the willingness to work extra hard,” Melnyk said.

Leading that effort will be Grade 12 guard Bardia Ilbeigi, a sharpshooter with a touch for scoring from beyond the three-point arc, and speedster Kyle Olley, who also happens to be the team’s tallest player at 6’3”.

“Yes, we are small,” Melnyk said.

ETC.

• Port Moody Blues did not respond in time for deadline.

• Gleneagle Talons won’t have a senior team this season, although coach Jason Bingley said he’s hoping to lay the foundation for a reinvigoration of the school’s basketball program by taking the helm of the junior squad.

Also competing in the Coquitlam division of the Fraser North zone are the Maple Ridge Ramblers.

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