Panthers aim to compete in tough hoop league

Reality says the majority of teams in the Burnaby-New West senior boys basketball league are, well, out of their league.

Last year’s 4-A provincial champion, Burnaby South, and 3-A provincial finalist Byrne Creek both return with a lot of the same pieces that crushed their league rivals a year ago. Both are already locked in at the top of the provincial rankings. The remaining teams are expected to be a six-way battle among the rest for third place.

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For a team like the Moscrop Panthers, optimism is never a bad place to start.

Head coach Warne Sisler is adamant that there is room for growth, and to dream, in a potential run to the playoffs.

While his school churns out successive volleyball powerhouses with regularity, hoops is not something that has a similar track record. Winless last season, the program is eager to start with a clean slate but acknowledges that the term ‘underdog’ doesn’t quite do a couple of matchups justice.

Although they qualified for the Lower Mainlands in two of the past three years, both resulting in a quick exit, the Panthers have to look at the long game, while focusing on each quarter. Going 0-7 last year is not their cross to bear, but for those returning it will serve as motivation. The wins have not been easy to get in recent years, but progress is always worth chasing, Sisler says.

“The boys and I are going in to this season with an open mind and letting the season unfold as it comes to us,” remarked Sisler. “I am looking to develop them as players on the court but as well as student athletes off the court.”

Moscrop’s first league game was a loss, 95-79 to the Alpha Aztecs two weeks ago.

Sisler said while the loss was disappointing, the boys demonstrated some solid skills and a strong work ethic that can be built on.

“We did a lot of good things and will look to build on those successes while targeting things we can get better at for future games.”

As with any possible good outcome, a key element is a leadership core that can help steer through any obstacles or tough challenges. Sisler, who is a first-year senior boys coach, feels the Panthers have a few good young men setting the tone.

“We have a number of players who step up and assume a leadership role when needed,” he said. “Jarren Huynh is our leader through his play on the court, and allows for his game to speak for itself.

“Karl Ordinario is the voice of practice and the one to make sure the boys are focused and ready.”

The squad also has strength in numbers, with 14 on the roster. Although not blessed with any six-foot-10 towers – volleyball provincial all-star Martin Prinsloo is listed as the tallest Panther at six-foot-three – it’s in the area of hustle where Moscrop can separate itself from the pack.

“We are a team with a fair mix of size and speed,” said Sisler. “We will look to play mostly a transition game with an uptempo offence when the opportunities arise. As well, we do have some real size down low and it may depend on matchups.”

A nice addition has come in international student Riccardo dal Zotto, a six-foot-two forward from Italy.

“(Dal Zotto) is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen both on and off the court,” said the coach.

Character is another element the school has depth in, as three members of the program are already paying it forward by coaching the Grade 8 boys team – Grade 12s Tristan Caron, Hamza Zahid and Ordinario.

Sisler expects there to be bumps in the road, with their next league test not until Jan. 9 against 4-A champion Burnaby South. But the gameplan is to force other teams to be at their best.

“I see us competing in every single game,” he said. “If we play our game and rise to the level of our competition each (time), I see no reason why we cannot compete with any team this year.”

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