It wasn’t the final game they hoped to play in, but it was the performance they planned to give.
The Burnaby South Rebels capped a very strong season by finishing third at the B.C. 4-A senior boys basketball championships, stopping the No. 3-ranked Terry Fox Ravens 86-71 on Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
Resignation and disappointment were filed away following the previous day’s 75-64 semifinal loss to Lord Tweedsmuir, and replaced with pride and dedication, all under a one-for-all meme.
“This was not the game we wanted to be in, but it’s all we talked about in the locker room after our semifinal loss,” said Grade 12 guard Jiordano Khan. “It’s life, and we just have to learn to bounce back. I feel we really did that today and I’m happy we came out with the win.”
In a program where they’ve been a constant among the circuit’s top-10 rankings the past four years, being a Final Four isn’t a collapse. When you consider the competition and the missed presence of standout post Sasha Vujisic, the end result is the sum of all the parts.
As with any provincial tournament, the gauntlet proved both grueling and grand. Four games where the true character of a team rises to the surface.
Friday’s loss to Lord Tweedsmuir – a 75-64 setback – could have buried another team. However, despite still without a provincial six-foot-10 all-star in the lineup, the Rebels reflected and put forth a winning effort.
Coming out of the gate slowly, the defending B.C. champions got into the spirit of it beginning in the second quarter, erasing a five-point deficit after trailing for the opening 15 minutes.
Khan nailed his first free throw, followed quickly by a putback from Grade 9 call-up Karan Aujla, to give the Rebels a 31-28 lead.
Having trailed by four after one quarter and led by seven – 41-33 – at halftime, momentum was now on their side. Burnaby didn’t ease up and carved out a comfortable edge to start the fourth, thanks 10 points from senior Kyle Kirmaci.
“This is probably one of the harder games of the year to play,” noted Rebels head coach Mike Bell. “You lose an emotional game (Friday) and bounce back, but the seniors really wanted to make a point and go out with a win, and they did it.”
Grade 12 post Aidan Wilson topped the team with 21 points, including a handful of rim benders, five rebounds and three blocks, while Aujla cashed in 14 points and contributed five boards.
Sunga was voted onto the tourney’s first all-star team, while Baltej Sohal was selected to the second all-star team.
Sunga, a Grade 10 who drove a lot of the team’s offence, is part of a small but mighty returning group for next year, including six-foot-10 Vujisic and Matthew Pineda. Aujla, who was a major part of the junior champions’ run, will likely add to his six-foot-five frame.
As a youngster building his experience portfolio among an older crowd, the five-foot-eight guard was a impressive force on both sides of the ball. He took on the role of going man-to-man with Team B.C. teammate Cam Slaymaker of Fox and kept the rangy six-foot-three guard in relative check most of the game -- Slaymaker scored 15 points, but six were from the free throw line.
“That’s Sunga. He wants that matchup. That is probably his biggest rival in his age, so he has all the hype around him. It’s a battle for him and he wants that," said Bell.
Getting to go up against Fox's best player, who like him, is a Grade 10, was a challenge Sunga was looking forward to.
"I played with him in the summer, my Team B.C. teammate. We know a lot about each other, we know how to guard each other and we battled in practice. It was just great to be on the court against him. We love battling," said Sunga.
Bell noted that, coupled with the provincial wins at the junior and Grade 8 level, the Rebels will be a team to contend with for years to come. And while he is losing assistant coach Cody Cormack, who is taking on the senior girls basketball coaching position, the end result will benefit the Burnaby South program as a whole.
“Our future is bright. We have a lot of talented kids coming up in the program, from Grade 8 all the way up. There’s a lot of talent here, and we’re not going to go anywhere. (Aujla) went in there and he was awesome, how he contributed.”
The future trajectory is also a reflection of what this graduating core has put in place, the coach noted..
“These guys had a tremendous career. These guys really set the bar for our program. Coming in every final, from Grade 8 to Grade 11, and missing one final and still coming in at third. There are not too many kids in the province that can say that in their high school career.”
With Vujisic unavailable, a lot of the big-man role was put on Wilson's lofty shoulders. The six-foot-eight senior provided a lot of energy and had one of his best games of the season.
"(Wilson) wanted to make sure, in his final year, to go out and play hard," said Bell. "He showed his range in this game, showed he can run the court. Aidan was awesome. He’s a beast. That foot was killing him, every day ice bucket, taking care of it, battling it out and I'm proud of him to be out on the floor."
As for next year, the route to just get into the provincials is going to be a new experience, with B.C. School Sports' scheduled realignment taking affect in 2019/20. The plan is to reassign some Lower Mainland teams and some Fraser Valley teams to create a new Burnaby-New West-Tri-Cities-Ridge Meadows zone, trying to reduce the overwhelming size of the Valley. It's still to be determined how many berths to the B.C.s such a zone will be competing for, but if this season is any indication -- where four schools from the new zone reached the B.C.s -- the provincial tourney may need to expand to 20 teams again.
Bell is keeping an open mind right now.
"I still don’t want to comment too much, because I don’t fully understand it. I know it means we’ll get more of these games, from what I’m being told. We’ll get to play Fox more, which is good, we’ll play Heritage (Woods), who were in this tournament, and Centennial, who have a bright future for next year. It’s going to be a fun zone."
REBEL NOTES: Moving on upon graduation are: Gabe Canatoy, Johann Chua, Louis Hsaio, Jiordano Khan, Kyle Kirmaci, Jasper Liao, Brandon Obuyes, Hanz Paloma, Baltej Sohal, Aidan Wilson and Richie Xiao.