It's been just over a month since the end of G.W. Graham's meteoric Grade 8 football season. In the program's inaugural year, the brand new AA team defied all expectations and made it all the way to the AAA provincial championship final at BC Place before conceding the title by just two points.
But football might not be the only provincial title this pack of unusually athletic Grade 8s vies for this year, according to Graham's athletic director and boys basketball coach Jake Mouritzen.
"Our Grade 8 basketball team should be one of the best in the province this year," he said of his young squad (he also coaches the senior boys team). "We have a huge group of very talented Grade 8s-a lot of players and really skilled players."
The team was 4-0 as of Wednesday morning after dispatching each of their first three opponents by more than 30 points.
Besides their raw talent, Mourit-zen said this group is also the first to benefit from a deliberate choice on the part GWG's athletic department to dovetail football and basketball, much like two-sport powerhouses W.J. Mouat, Mission and Vancouver College have done.
"We really decided to focus heavily on the two-sport male athlete, football and basketball, because basketball really works well with football, especially high school football," said Mouritzen. "A lot of the skill set is the same: quick feet, good hands, good hand-eye co-ordination."
Twelve of the 15 players on Graham's Grade 8 basketball team started the year playing football.
But that alone doesn't account for this team's potential, according to Mouritzen.
A solid handful have also been playing competitive basketball since Grade 5 with club team Trans Canada.
And two of these, Tyus DeVries and Gabe Mannes, just got back from Basketball BC's Grade 8 Top 50 Camp.
DeVries, for one, knows what he wants out of this season.
"We're hoping to make the provincials," he told the Times. "Our goal is to medal."
"We knew these two were going to be special and they come with a huge group of peers," Mouritzen said of DeVries and Mannes. "Gabe's fast as lightning, dribbles the ball as good as any senior basketball player. He can already shoot consistently from the three point line, drives to the hoop, just a pure athlete, sees the floor well, pushes the ball."
And DeVries? "No one works harder," Mouritzen said. "Tyus is in the gym every morning at 6 o'clock."
One final ingredient likely to push GWG's Grade 8 squad along the road to success this year, and in the future, is the basketball culture that's come into its own at Graham over the past couple of years.
Mouritzen had a chance to soak some of that up just before the Christmas break at an early morning practice that saw senior boys, senior girls, Grade 8s and even a couple of returning GWG alumni all shooting in the gym at the same time.
"We had Grade 8 boys shooting with current college players, shooting with our seniors, and I don't think that's happened at too many places, so it was a pretty special morning," Mouritzen said. "Those Grade 8s get to see all the way to senior and, if they work hard enough, what they can be after that."
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