It’s hard to build a high school basketball tradition without success, but it’s hard to build success without tradition.
For decades that’s been a conundrum Sardis secondary’s senior boys basketball team hasn’t been able to solve.
But all that might be about to change.
The preseason has seen the team burst onto the provincial stage with wins over three perennial B.C. powers, including defending provincial champs Terry Fox.
And for the first time in the school’s history, they’ve broken into the triple-A top-10 rankings, coming in at ninth last week.
On Tuesday, the Falcons opened the regular season with a 87-61 victory over Abbotsford’s Robert Bateman in front of 200 enthusiastic fans.
“It’s just a really great time to be a basketball fan at Sardis,” head coach Kyle Graves told the Times.
It certainly hasn’t always been that way, said Graves, who played for team from 1999 to 2002 before moving on to a five-year career with the then UCFV Cascades.
“It has been kind of a little bit of a joke in the past,” he said of his alma mater’s senior boys basketball program. “If you look at Sardis secondary, we’re like the sixth or seventh biggest school in B.C. When I was at Sardis there were 1,800 kids there. You’d think out of 1,800 kids and 900 boys in Grade 10 to 12 you’re going to be able to field a strong basketball team, but that hasn’t been the case.”
A pair of gifted players—Hayden Lejeune and Eric Rogers, who scored 21 and 18 points, respectively, Tuesday—and a lot of hard work by coaches at the middle-school and junior levels have made the difference with this year’s team, Graves said.
Two dads, Sardis teacher Dale Servatius and Falcons assistant coach Trevin Rogers, have worked with the Vedder middle school grads who make up the team’s core since Grade 7, and junior coach Bob Fitzsimmons has worked with many of them for the past two years.
Their work has paid off, according to Graves.
Most of his players also play club during the off-season, and that’s key, he said.
“Maybe 10 years ago you could get away with your role players not playing basketball throughout the summer,” Graves said, “but now you have school teams like Yale and Walnut Grove who are the third- and second-ranked team in the province and they play 12 months out of the year. To keep up with them you have to be able to play club throughout the summer.”
Grade 11 standouts Lejeune, the team’s starting 6-foot-7 centre, and Rogers, a starting 6-foot-4 forward, are two of the best players in the province, have played on Team B.C. and supply the Falcons’ star power.
They’re supported by a talented cast of role players, starting with Grade 12 point guard Jason Kroeker, the team’s third, consistent starter.
Rounding out the team’s starting five so far are Devin Brandreth and Mike Gregory, who both sat out last season after transferring from G.W. Graham for Grade 10.
“Devin’s been a real pleasant surprise,” said Graves. “He’s worked really hard and he’s almost our best three-point shooter.”
At guard, Gregory brings energy, athleticism and a lot of steals on defence, Graves said. Cam Servatius is the team’s sixth man.
“He does everything for us,” Graves said. “He’s our best defender and one of our guys that we rely on to score 10 points a game.”
For inspiration, the Falcons look to Grade 12 centre Raphael Olivares, who put up 13 points Tuesday including a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
As Lejeune’s backup, he doesn’t always get a lot of time on the court, but when he does, he makes it count, according to Graves.
Together the team plays an athletic game, running the ball and playing tough defence.
Their early success, which started with a 55-52 win over then fifth-ranked W.J. Mouat in the team’s first exhibition game of the season last month, raised a lot of eyebrows, including Graves’s.
“It was kind of shocking at first because last year they’d beaten us by 45 points in their gym,” he said, “and we were just hoping to compete and stay with them, but then we showed that we could beat them.”
For Graves, it’s meant adjusting his team’s goals for the season.
Ultimately the Falcons are still gunning for a trip to the provincial championships in March, but now they’ve also made it their goal to stay among the top-10 teams in the B.C for the rest of the year.
In the meantime, Graves is hopeful the Falcons’ promising pre-season might be the beginning of a new basketball tradition at the school.
“I’m sure we’ll see some reward from the middle school kids looking up to this team right now, thinking ‘Maybe I’ll work harder’ to try to replicate what they’re doing right now.”
- The Falcons head to a tournament in Penticton this weekend. On Jan. 2 they host fourth-ranked Walnut Grove secondary for an exhibition game. Their next regular season game is a rematch against Bateman in Abbotsford Jan. 8.