Youth, enthusiasm drive TC roundballers

The senior boys’ high school basketball season opened this week with several Tri-City teams playing exhibition games.

The Terry Fox Ravens, Centennial Centaurs and Heritage Woods Kodiaks are also participating in the annual Kodiak Klassic tournament that wraps up Saturday at Heritage Woods secondary.

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The tournament draw features seven of the top ten AAAA in the province, including last year’s champions, the Burnaby South Rebels, along with three of the top-ranked AAA teams. For more information about the tournament, including a schedule for Saturday’s championship round, go to www.kodiakklassic.ca.

Here is how the Fraser Valley North stacks up for the season ahead:

Terry Fox Ravens

The Terry Fox Ravens head into the senior boys AAAA basketball season ranked fourth in the province. Coach Brad Petersen says his charges are “motivated” to ascend even higher.

“The players are very eager and hungry to compete this season,” he said of his team that reached the provincial tournament at the Langley Events Centre but failed to qualify for the championship round.

They’re also a year older, with a sizeable contingent returning to the hardwood.

“The experience they gained last year will really help our success this year,” Petersen said.

Senior guards Jacob Mand, David Chien and Jaden DeLeon will be key to helping the Ravens navigate another tough schedule constructed by Petersen to help prepare the team for the rigours of getting to provincials. 

Grade 12 forward Grady Stanyer will be a big presence in the key, pulling down rebounds and drawing attention from opposing defenders to free up space for skilled shooters like Grade 11 guard Ko Takahaski and sophomore Cam Slaymaker.

Heritage Woods Kodiaks

Kodiaks coach Chris Smith says he’s “really excited” about his group of players who are ranked just outside the top ten heading into the season.

With only four returnees to an otherwise young and inexperienced team, that’s a notable accolade.

Two of those veteran seniors, Zach Hamed and Arshia Movassaghi, will be counted on for their leadership and skill on the court with the departures of guard Graham Poka and forward Justin Knowles to graduation. They’ll be capably supported by Grade 11 guard Chris Moon, who, Smith said, 

“shoots the ball well from all areas and can get to the rim,” as well as Grade 11 forward Morgan Liski, a “well-rounded player,” with good rebouding skills.

“The Fraser Valley is very open this year with a lot of team that are evenly matched,” Smith said. “It will be a fight for the seven or eight provincial berths.”

Centennial Centaurs

Centennial coach Rob Solero hopes an injection of youth graduating from a competitive junior program he also guides will complement his core of a half-dozen returning seniors. 

Dom Parolin is a dynamic 6’7” forward who can do it all, said Solero, while Leif Skelding is a speedy guard who can run the point and shoot from the perimeter. Braeden Markiewicz and Kyle Jang will also bring with them the confidence and decision making they honed with a junior team that finished third in the Fraser Valleys and won three games at provincials.

They’re expected to be the supporting players to the cast of seniors led by 6’6” forward Ivan Denyssevych, 6’ point guard Solomon Wauye and 6’3” small forward Shay O’Connor.

“We have a difficult schedule this season, but we are looking to improve as the season progresses,” Solero said.

Pinetree Timberwolves

Graduation has cost the Timberwolves 10 senior players, but coach Eugene Melnik is hopeful the next wave of players can step up and assume leadership of the team that finished atop the Fraser Valley North last season.

Among grade 11 players on the team, forward David Mutabazi, guard Michael Alamdar, forward Kyle Olley and guard Bardia Igbedi “are definitely positioning themselves to represent our club in the next two years,” Melnik said.

They’ll be guided by a pair of returning seniors, forward Austin McDonell and guard Jordan Mi.

“With so much youth, we hope to field a faster and more enthusiastic team,” Melnik said. “Our goal is to play as many tournaments and games as possible to gain this valuable experience.”

Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils

The Blue Devils have a new coach and new hope the team can build on last season’s fourth place finish in the division.

Daniel Depelteau, the executive director of the elite boys program at Excel Basketball, has taken the reins at Best from former coaches Matthew Sokol and Mike Parkins.

“My job will be to keep the same core values that (they) brought to the program, and add my touch to the mix,” Depelteau said.

That mix includes key seniors like point guard David Landy and power forward Geoffrey Nonis, who’s also the team captain charged with setting an example for juniors like Connor Dauncey.

Riverside Rapids

The Rapids have lost their star forward, 6’5” Michael Wilkinson, who averaged 30 points and 14 rebounds a game during his three-year tenure with the senior team, but coach Raj Kothary is approaching that absence as an opportunity.

“It will be impossible for any player to fill (Wilkinson’s) shoes, but the team is shifting to more of a well-rounded attack with multiple options,” Kothary said.

Senior guards Jaxson Abdou and Gabe Bautista will take on leadership roles for a Rapids team that will be younger with an infusion of Grade 11 players like guard Reman Rodriguez and forwards Jesse Lee and Josh Mitchell.

Those young legs will make the team quicker and more enthusiastic, Kothary said. “We plan on… being a high energy team and taking advantage of our perimeter game.”

Gleneagle Talons

The Talons have flown under the radar for years. So low, in fact, the team didn’t win a game last season.

Coach Jason Bingley is hoping that changes this season.

He said with a year’s more experience and confidence in their sneakers, last season’s young squad is ready to run the court and have fun. Leading the way will be senior point guard Razely Dang and shooting guard George Dume, who, Bingley said, have the potential to form the best backcourt in the district. 

“Our players recognize that they are viewed as underdogs,” Bingley said, adding they’re eager to prove themselves better than some observers think.

Port Moody Blues

The Blues were also winless last season. This year they almost didn’t take the court at all, as former coach Troy Cunningham moved on to work for the school district.

But when 20 players showed up for an early practice, the coach of the senior and junior girls’ teams, Sue Sands, stepped into a similar role for the senior boys.

Well, senior in name only, as most of the team is comprised of Grade 11’s.

Sands, who played basketball at the University of British Columbia, said what players like Mark Adigue, Jasper Chen and Evan Wilks lack in experience, they make up with enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn.

“The boys love the game and are definitely in the gym daily on their own time,” she said, adding the team will have to learn quickly after getting a late start.

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