When Hamza Saqib first joined Semiahmoo Secondary’s senior boys basketball team, he played something of a complementary role, as the Totems at the time were, like most teams, largely led by a slew of Grade 12 stars.
Saqib, after all, was one of the team’s youngest players, first getting a taste of the senior-level when he was only in Grade 10 – the year the Totems finished second in B.C. – and then playing a bigger role last season, highlighted by an all-star nod at the Surrey RCMP Basketball Classic.
But now that he’s at the top of the team’s seniority list, he finds himself in a position not faced by any of his hoops predecessors – as the only Grade 12 player on the team. He’s also one of just two returning players from last season, alongside Tajin Rai, who is in Grade 11 this year but played on the team last year as a junior-aged player, as Saqib did two seasons ago.
Whereas previous Totem teams have had at least a few senior players to share the leadership load, Saqib is shouldering more of it than perhaps he expected, with an assist or two from the team’s six Grade 11s, including Rai.
This year’s squad also includes one Grade 10 player and one in Grade 9, too.
Saqib admits he’s not exactly an outgoing, ‘rah-rah’-style person – Totems head coach Ed Lefurgy calls him “the quiet leader of our team” – but he has embraced the role nonetheless, as he leads the team to what he and Rai hope is another trip to the provincials.
“It’s definitely a different feeling for me this year, and there’s a bit more pressure on my shoulders to be a team leader now, but I just try to lead by example… and make sure we’re all doing the things we need to do – like giving 100 per cent in practice,” he told Peace Arch News last week, a few minutes after the conclusion of a brief team meeting about the team’s league game that evening against the Tamanawis Wildcats.
Saqib, the team’s captain this year – “He’s the backbone of our team,” Lefurgy said – added that he’s leaned on Totem captains past as he’s tried to lead the way this year.
“The seniors that were here last year, they did a great job… so I’m just trying to continue it. And two years ago, we had (future Canadian university players) Vlad (Mihaila) and Adam (Paige), and I learned from them, too,” Saqib said.
Lefurgy said Saqib’s rise from young role player to team leader hasn’t come as a great surprise to him, because he’s always jumped at the opportunity for more responsibility.
“He’s an awesome young man, and he’s been a huge member of our program since Grade 8,” the senior boys coach said. “We run all our plays through him, he guards the other team’s top players every game and does a great job of it. The other day he was guarding a seven-footer, sometimes it’s a six-foot-nine guy. He just does everything we ask of him.”
What helps the six-foot-three Saqib succeed against much larger players is his “exceptional” quickness, Lefurgy added.
He’s also a quick, and willing, learner, with Lefurgy calling him “a sponge.”
While Saqib is the sole graduating player on this year’s roster, the team won’t find itself in the same boat next fall, when the team will have half a dozen Grade 12s, including Rai, who said he’s already tried to take a leadership role on the team.
“This year, I think I’ve learned a lot from Hamza about how to lead, and I feel like I’ll be able to take some of that and translate it to next year when I’m in his position,” said Rai, whose older brother was on the senior Totems when he entered the school in Grade 8.
“The seniors kind of pass on the knowledge and then it just keeps the cycling going. The older guys here have always done that, and it just helps us all continue to get better.”