The silver lining to the Walnut Grove Gators’ impressive season comes in the form of the medals they took home from the B.C. high school junior boys basketball championships.
In Tuesday’s final at the Langley Events Centre, the No. 4 seed Brentwood College School from Cowichan Valley defeated the Gators 51-43 to capture the B.C. title.
“They say that defence wins championships and that was the case last night,” Gators head coach Chris Bertoia told the Advance Wednesday morning. “Our defence was good. Their defence was spectacular.”
During the first four games of the tournament, the Gators averaged 64.5 points per game and Brentwood held them to 43.
“We have a huge amount of respect for Brentwood’s team and their coaches, Liam Sullivan and Darcy Kulai, did an amazing job with that group of boys,” Bertoia said.
The Fraser Valley champion Gators punched their ticket to the final by beating the No. 3 seed, Kitsilano, by a 62-55 score Monday at the LEC.
Brentwood earned a trip to the gold medal game by downing top-seeded Handsworth 58-51.
In earlier B.C. tournament action, the Gators reeled off wins over Burnaby South (68-51), Steveston-London (55-53), and, in their opener, St. Thomas More Collegiate (73-53).
The Gators’ James Woods was named to the tournament’s first-all star team while his teammate Azino Tyrell Urepe was named to the second all-star team.
Brentwood’s Brendan Sullivan was MVP of the tournament, which ran Feb. 27 to March 1 at the LEC, and also included the Brookswood Bobcats.
Reflecting on the season as a whole, Bertoia said the Gators were phenomenal, on and off the court.
“So proud of these kids at Walnut Grove,” Bertoia said. “They have worked so hard as individual athletes and as a group. Obviously we practised as a team, but what really impressed me was the time that these kids all put in on their own – in the gym at 7 a.m. doing shooting drills, not because a coach told them to be there, but because they love basketball and have an incredible work ethic.”
Bertoia was equally pleased with the hard work the players did in the classroom.
“You would have a hard time finding another team that does as well academically, and in my mind there is a very strong connection between athletic success and academic work ethic,” said Bertoia, noting that he reminds his players about young hockey phenom Connor McDavid, who won the Ontario Hockey League Scholastic Player of the Year award last year.
“If he [McDavid] sees the importance of working hard in the classroom, shouldn’t every student athlete see the importance of working hard to do well in school?” asked Bertoia.
He’s also proud of the Gators, simply because they are so close.
“I have coached teams before where the players were not really friends away from the team,” Bertoia said. “This group is amazing, they are like brothers, and it is great to see a group of young men sticking so close together.”