BASKETBALL: North Delta Huskies junior boys take third place at provincial championship

After a heartbreaking loss in the semis, North Delta rallied to beat the West Vancouver Highlanders 53-42 to place third in the tournament.

Husky Bhavraj Thiara (20) and Highlander Simone Ceolin (13) chase after the ball during the first half of the third place game at the B.C. High School Jr. Boys Basketball Provincial Championships at the Langley Events Centre on Feb. 28.

There are six minutes to go before the game, and the North Delta Huskies are weaving an intricate dance on the basketball court.

Pass, pass, shoot, often score. The ball zips between the Grade 10 boys as they practice layups and three-point shots, shoes squeaking on the varnished floor.

They don’t look to the crowd, or at least they don’t seem to. If they had yesterday, they would have seen rows and rows filled with North Delta Secondary students and teachers; a fan bus that coach Jesse Hundal said was sold out by lunch time brought them out to the semi-final game.

Today (Feb. 28), the stands are quieter. But watching the focus on the players’ faces, you’d never know it.

A minute before the game, the Huskies take off their long-sleeved Howl City shirts, revealing the black and gold jerseys underneath. Their last game of the season is about to begin.

Part One: The semi-finals

In their first three games at the B.C. High School Basketball Provincial Championships, the North Delta Huskies junior boys team won with at least 26 points to spare. In the first few minutes of their semi-final game against the Sir Charles Tupper Tigers, it felt like this one could go the same way.

From the bench, the Tupper Tigers were chanting.

Bhavraj Thiara, number 20 for the Huskies, had the ball. Tupper’s Gaurab Acharya ran towards him. The Tigers’ defensive chant intensified, speeding up, feeling frenetic.

A second later, with Acharya at his elbow, Thiara took the shot. From the three-point line the ball sailed above the heads of his teammates and opponents and sunk into the basket.

In the first quarter, Sir Charles Tupper found themselves chanting their defensive mantra repeatedly, the tempo speeding up as the Huskies continued their offensive strikes.

Huskies guard Suraj Gahir drives for the hoop against the Sir Charles Tupper Tigers during the semi-finals of the B.C. High School Jr. Boys Basketball Provincial Championships. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy

Huskies guard Suraj Gahir drives for the hoop against the Sir Charles Tupper Tigers during the semi-finals of the B.C. High School Jr. Boys Basketball Provincial Championships. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy

But soon, the Huskies were the ones on the defensive.

The Tigers are “a very good team and they are very quick. As you can see, their guards, they shoot the lights out,” said Gary Sandhu, one of North Delta’s coaches.

“We got kind of in the hole early…and against a good team if you get down early, you’re going to get buried. And that’s exactly what they did.”

The Huskies fought back, with Suraj Gahir taking risky shots from behind the three-point line and Jagraj Johal breaking away with the ball late in the game. They ended the game with 53 points, but it wasn’t enough to catch Tupper’s 66.

As one of the Tigers dribbled the ball through the remaining seconds of the game, the players started shaking hands, patting the opposing team on the back. It was a good game for North Delta. But it wasn’t good enough.

In the changing room, player Arun Atker said, some of the boys were crying.

“We wanted that banner really bad,” Atker said. “That was our goal from day one, and it was tough.”

Tupper went on to play the Burnaby South Rebels for the provincial championship, losing by 12 points, while North Delta was pitted against the West Vancouver Highlanders for third place.

“It’s not number one but it’s number three,” Gahir said after the game. “Especially after taking a tough loss, we have to keep our heads up and play hard…That’s all we can control right now.”

After all, Sandhu said as the players filed into the seats to watch Burnaby South defeat West Vancouver by 10 points in the semi-final, “the season isn’t finished yet.”

Part Two: The finals

The Huskies are down in the Highlanders’ end of the court. Weaving in and out of the plaid-clad players, they move the ball quickly and efficiently. Pass, pass, shoot.

With three minutes to go in the first quarter, the Huskies are up by six. By the last minute of the second, the margin is down to four.

The game gets aggressive. Coaches call timeout after timeout; in the second quarter, North Delta calls one immediately after West Van’s so they can continue strategizing.

Players on both teams are knocked to the floor. West Vancouver’s Nic Karmal limps off the court after getting dropped following a quick basket by the Huskies.

Huskies forward Paras Gill (13) fights to keep the ball away from two Highlanders during the third quarter. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy

Huskies forward Paras Gill (13) fights to keep the ball away from two Highlanders during the third quarter. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy

“I know they were fatigued, they were tired,” coach Jesse Hundal said later. “But listen, at the end of the day, they came up and they showed the type of character that they are, which is strong young men.”

By the end of the fourth quarter North Delta is up by 11 points, and players who have sat on the bench for the majority of the game are out to play in the remaining seconds.

It’s a win: 53 to 42 for North Delta. But as the five starting players line up to receive the medals and plaques, it feels bittersweet.

“We had a goal of winning the provincial championship, but that didn’t come through,” Atker said after the game.

Even though they didn’t win the championship, this win is still a major achievement; this is the farthest the team has gone since North Delta’s junior boys won the provincial title in the early 1970s.

“I think we put our team back on the map,” Suraj Gahir said. “ND didn’t have that many good teams in a while. I mean, they were good but they didn’t make it so far.”

Coach Hundal agreed.

“North Delta basketball has a rich tradition within the B.C. basketball community. And I think our job was to put North Delta back on the map,” he said.  “With this group of guys and I think with our whole basketball program…we’re steering in the right direction.”

Although this is the end of the season, it’s not the end of the road. Next year these boys will be moving on to the senior team, and they’re hoping then they’ll be able to bring the blue banner back to North Delta Secondary.

“We still have two more years,” Atker said, “and we’re coming.”

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