It’s a sign post to the season that for some teams says ‘merge.’ For others, it’s a green light.
The St. Thomas More senior boys Chancellor tournament signals a new year and a new stage for its participants, and for the squad that puts it on, offers a chance to make a statement about playoff hopes, team goals and turning expectations into achievements.
As St. Thomas More Knights assistant coach Aaron Mitchell views it, there are few better places to measure your competitive spirit than in STM's window-crested gym.
“It’s always exciting,” remarked Mitchell, who is joined on the bench with head coach Michael Cheung and assistant Karol Cybula. “We talk a lot about loyalty and honour, and from a personal perspective those are a big part of how we design this tournament.
“We’ve had teams come in a few years, when their programs are stronger they go on to (Terry Fox’s) Legal Beagle. Every year I tell nearly the same 15 teams that they are welcome back, and we’ve got a good group of teams that keep returning.”
Terry Fox’s tourney coincides with STM’s competition, but has a firm 4-A focus. Being Mitchell’s own alma mater, he understands the draw it holds on teams. But for the 3-A senior boys circuit, you may not find a better collection of talents and match-ups than at the Chancellor.
Crosstown rival Byrne Creek Bulldogs are one of the main draws this season, coming off last year’s second place finish at the B.C.s and who entered the pre-Christmas provincial rankings sitting in the No. 1 seat.
Their target remains getting back to the Langley Events Centre, and an event like STM’s tourney meets all the requirements when it comes to preparing them for that day.
“I think the big thing is we want to see after the break that our energy level is where we want it to be, and get up for some tough competition,” noted Byrne head coach Bal Dhillon. “We have to be ready bright and early to go.”
That last reference goes to the start time for the Bulldogs, who open the Chancellor on Wednesday with an 8:30 a.m. contest against unranked Brookswood. Not usually an ideal time for a game, when players are usually scrambling to get into class on the right side of the school bell.
But it also mirrors how the schedule could unfold come March if your team earns a spot at the provincials. So ‘rise and shine’ is a credo every team wants to play for.
"What we want to see," Dhillon said, "is, No. 1, that we can compete with anyone, no matter the rankings, and No. 2, we need to play with energy."
The Knights, who are shooting to make a return to the 3-A B.C.s after missing out last season, square off against Richmond’s McNair, noon on Wednesday, in a game that will benefit from a packed gym.
“At this point of the season do coaches want to win these tournaments? Absolutely, but most of all they want to play competitive games, and that’s what we go for when we make the schedule,” said Mitchell.
He reels off a list of names of opposing coaches for whom he has great respect for -- Maple Ridge's Ken Dockendorf, Jake Mouritzen of G.W. Graham, and Dhillon. Having them and their teams choosing the Chancellor is a huge compliment, he says.
"I know these are good coaches who put in the time with their kids, they are all there for the big picture," added Mitchell.
There's a lot of questions yet to be answered before the playoffs begin, he noted, but some things are revealed during the four-day tourney. And there will be surprises in the results, as there are nearly every year.
"That's the fun of high school basketball," he said. "You never know what's going to happen."
Other Wednesday tilts include No. 9-ranked Rick Hansen against McMath (10:15 a.m.), No. 2 North Delta against Maple Ridge (1:45 p.m.), Steveston-London versus Fleetwood Park (3:30 p.m.), No. 3 Sir Charles Tupper against honourable mention Argyle (5:15 p.m.), West Van plays No. 4 G.W. Graham (7 p.m.), and Centennial takes on No. 5 Duchess Park of Prince George (8:45 p.m.).
The quarterfinals begin at 3:30 on Thursday, while the semifinals are slated for 7 and 8:45 p.m. on Friday. The Chancellor final tips off at 6 p.m. on Saturday.