The season is but a week old, but already the White Rock Christian Academy Warriors are set to face the toughest test on their basketball calendar.
On Sunday, as part of the inaugural Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the Langley Events Centre, the Warrior’s senior boys hoops squad will face off against the Findlay Prep Pilots, a high school powerhouse from Henderson, Nev., who are the main attraction at this weekend’s tournament, which is named in honor of longtime high-school sports reporter Howard Tsumura.
“I think the guys are excited, and nobody will admit it, but they’re all probably a little nervous, too,” said WRCA coach Dale Shury.
“We’re used to playing these kinds of (top-ranked) teams though. In the past, we’ve played Oak Hill, we’ve hosted St. Benedict’s at our school… we play these guys, and then a couple years later, you see them on TV, in the NCAA or playing pro.”
The Pilots, currently ranked second among all American high school boys’ basketball teams by USA Today, have won three of the past four prestigious ESPN national high school basketball invitationals.
“We like our group,” said Pilots coach Todd Simon.
“We have a lot of great kids who are really putting the time in, working hard and learning a lot.”
The Pilots have six players already committed to NCAA Division 1 schools for their post-secondary basketball. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss is off to Washington, while two other guards — Al Freeman and Stanford Robinson — will attend UCLA and NCAA No. 1-ranked Indiana, respectively.
The Pilots also boast an imposing front line built around a trio of near-seven footers. Christian Wood, a six-foot-nine shot blocker who plays like a guard, is off to UNLV, while Fallou Ndoye, a six-foot-10 physical post player, will play at Mississippi State, and six-foot-11 Benas Griciunas — a skilled post player who can also shoot — has committed to Auburn.
“We play hard, we play together,” Simon said when asked to describe his squad. “We try to play the game the right way in terms of making extra passes and running the floor.
“We play an uptempo style that scores a lot of points and all that good stuff.”
This will be the team’s first time playing in Canada.
“It seemed like a new, unique experience for us.”
White Rock, meanwhile, is coming off a third-place finish at last year’s BC AAA High School Boys Basketball Championships. They’re also entering their first full season under the tutelage Shury, who took over head-coaching duties midway through last season after the resignation of John Dykstra.
Despite losing a handful of key players to graduation – including Jake Newman, Kristophe Baerg and Jon Pelling – the Warriors will be a veteran-laden team this year, with nine Grade 12s on the roster, including point guard Tyus Allen, Sam Ykema and Vartan Tanielan.
“We’ll be back in the mix this year, for sure,” Shury said.
“We’ve lost a little size, with some of the guys who’ve graduated, so we’ll have to play a higher-paced, fast-break style this year, but we’ve got some good shooters, and guys who can play that way.”
WRCA is ranked No. 4 among B.C. AAA teams heading into the season. On Monday, the team defeated No. 7-ranked St. George’s Saints 82-79 in the WRCA home-opener. They head to Oak Bay Friday for another exhibition tilt, before returning in time for Sunday’s game against Findlay.
In addition to playing WRCA, Findlay will also play B.C. No. 1-ranked Walnut Grove, who finished second at provincials last season. That game is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday at LEC.
White Rock will open its regular-season schedule at home on Tuesday, Dec. 4 against the Semiahmoo Totems. Tip-off is 7 p.m.
– with files from Gary Ahuja