A trip to the Junior NBA World Championships is on the line when a Surrey-based basketball team travels to Ontario this weekend, as part of a tournament modeled on baseball’s Little League World Series.
The U14 boys squad is off to St. Catherines for the Canada region finals, where five teams will compete for a national title.
The AthElite academy squad earned the right to represent the B.C./Alberta region after beating Calgary-based Genesis Basketball 59-45 in a June 2 game played in Edmonton.
On the girls side, a team with Vancouver-based VK Basketball will represent this region at nationals, held from Friday to Sunday (June 15-17).
The boys of AthElite train at the BC Prep gym in Newton with head coach Aman Heran.
“This is the inaugural year of the U14 world championships, and it’s set up to include 32 teams, with the world championships in the first week of August,” Heran said.
Six of his eight players live in Surrey, including Karan Aujla, Gurjaap Sandhu, Gurek Sran, Ryson Dulapang, Rav Randhawa and Andrei Verchez (who goes to school at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta). They’re joined by Abbotsford’s Jaylen Lee and Burnaby baller Jimmy Zaborniak.
“This particular unit has been together since the fall, September of 2017, but the core of it has been together since the fifth grade,” Heran explained. “We’ve added a couple of pieces for this tournament, just to try to strengthen up our roster.”
Heran likes what he sees in his team.
“We have mature young men, and at U14 we have great size,” he said. “We have length from six-foot-six, six-four, a couple of six-two kids, but what really separates these guys is their basketball IQ and their compete level. It’s one of the hardest working teams we’ve ever had.”
At Brock University in St. Catherines, the West region finalists will play round-robin games against teams from four other areas of Canada – host Ontario, East, Atlantic and Prairie.
The Canadian winner will advance to the Jr. NBA World Championships, to be played from Aug. 7 to 12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, in Orlando, Florida. There, the boys and girls divisions will each include 16 teams – eight squads from regions around the U.S. and another eight international teams.
For that all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, Heran believes his team has a shot at the Canadian title this weekend.
“We sure do,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to have to go through four other, you know, respectable, teams, and we’re thinking Quebec and Ontario will be our toughest challenges, and we have a team from Saskatchewan, or Saskatoon, to deal with as well as New Brunswick, but I feel Ontario and Quebec will be our biggest challenges.”
One of Heran’s go-to players happens to be his nephew, guard Rav Randhawa, a Grade 8 student at Fleetwood Park Secondary who helped get the school’s junior team to the provincial finals this season.
“He’s a guard, pretty much our combo guard – shooting guard slash point guard slash everything guard,” Heran said. “He does it all, and when we’re in a position when we need more scoring, we play him off the ball because he’s such a great shooter, and Jimmy and Andrei kind of take point guard responsibilities.”
Randhawa and his teammates are stoked to fly to St. Catherines for games that start Friday.
“It’s exciting to have a chance to represent Canada in Orlando in August, for sure,” Randhawa said. “We’re going to go compete (in Ontario) and see how it turns out.”
Heran, a co-founder and director of AthElite Basketball Academy, said the young players are “eating up the whole process” as they prepare for some of the biggest games of their lives.
“They’re being treated like NBA superstars right now by getting planes set up for them and itineraries, and they don’t have to pay for anything. They have their basketballs, their backpacks and they go.”
Tournament details are posted at worldchampionship.jrnba.ca.