Chilliwack basketball coach faces Sophie's choice
Chilliwack basketball coach Kyle Graves has deep roots at Sardis secondary and the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), both as a player and as a coach.
In Grade 10, he was on the first Sardis boys team ever to make provincials.
At UFV, he won two college provincial championships, one national championship and was a member of the Cascades first CIS squad.
Since then, he’s helped raise both programs to unprecedented heights.
After five years as head coach of Sardis and assistant coach at UFV, the 29-year-old has seen Sardis transformed from Fraser Valley non-entity to quad-A provincial contender for two years running and the Cascades evolve into regulars at Canada West’s final four.
After three years as a Falcon, six years as a Cascade and five years of overlapping coaching commitments, Graves has invested a combined 19 years into the two teams.
But a Sophie’s choice is now at hand.
“At this moment I don’t know what I’m going to do as far as coaching Sardis or UFV,” he told the Times last week, “so it’s kind of up in the air now. It’ll be a summer of trying to decide the pros and cons of each one because I can’t keep doing both teams. It would just be too much.”
His employment will be a big part of the equation.
Graves first volunteered to coach at Sardis five years ago when he was fresh out of teacher school, living in Sardis and subbing in the Chilliwack school district.
“I came down and asked the athletic director, Mr. Heiss, if I could coach the junior team, and he said, ‘No, you can coach the senior team,’” Graves said. “I gave that a shot and I enjoyed it, and I’d always wanted to come back and help out Sardis.”
A history and P.E. teacher, Graves has spent five years building the program up from scratch, sometimes arriving at Sardis practices and games after a day of subbing elsewhere in the district, and sometimes as a temporary contract teacher at Sardis itself.
This year he’s covering a maternity leave at Sardis, but that contract will be up by next basketball season.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Graves said. “Hopefully I’ll get a continuing job at Sardis, which would make it easier to stay there.”
One thing’s for sure—especially since coach Graves somehow managed to find enough time to attract a girlfriend a year ago—staying on with both teams isn’t an option.
During the hoops season, he has sometimes put in as many as 26 after-work and weekend hours a week at UFV and Sardis practices and games.
And the off season isn’t as “off” as it used to be either.
“There’s not much taking time off,” Graves said. “It’s not like 30 years ago, where if you were an athlete, you just played three months a year and got by. Being one of the best players nowadays is a full-year commitment.”
Most young fans cheering on the Sardis Falcons during the hype and glamour of the provincial championships at the Langley Events Centre this month, were probably still in bed last summer while Falcons players hit the gym three days a week for 8 a.m. practices.
Like many a coach before him, Graves said he has put in the time as a way of giving back to a game that’s shaped not only his athletic career, but his life.
Among his influences he names local veteran Chilliwack secondary school coach Joe Mauro, who coached Graves at camp in Grade 6, supported him through his high school career at Sardis and was on hand at the provincials this month cheering Sardis on.
“He’s been a big mentor to me,” Graves said, “and I’ve always had so much respect for him because, in the past, he’s had really successful teams and a lot of coaches after that success goes away, they end up quitting, but he’s stuck with the program even in these last couple years where they’ve had down years.”
At UFV, it was coach Pat Lee that took Graves to the next level.
“I was just kind of a lazy player coming out of high school, kind of out of shape,” Graves said. “He made me a focused, not only athlete, but student. I wasn’t the greatest student my first couple years in university, but he really made me focus on what I wanted to accomplish. I ended up with a B average in university, which I never thought was possible.”
To Graves, the ultimate accomplishment as a coach would be to know he’s had the same influence on his own players.
Asked what he’s learned since making the transition from player to coach, Graves said he realizes now how much headspace the job takes up.
As a player, his passion and intensity made him a fan favourite and earned him team captain honours at UFV from his second year on—it also got him kicked out of his fair share of games.
Since he’s started coaching, though, he’s learned that even the most passionate player doesn’t think about the game the way a coach does, i.e. 24/7.
“If you lose a game or think you could have done something better, it’s going to stick with you, even right before you go to sleep, or when you wake up early in the morning,” Graves said.
“What could we have done better?” was his waking thought the morning after his Falcons lost the BC High School Boys 4A Basketball Championship semifinal to Holy Cross earlier this month.
More than a week later, he’s is still plagued by the thought that just five more minutes of better basketball could have won it for them.
“It would have been an amazing feat to get to the final,” he said. “I’ve thought about it a couple times today, but slowly every day I’m thinking about it a tiny bit less.”