The final chapter of the Lower Mainland “AAA” Boys Basketball Championships will unfold in February and the MacNeill Ravens plan on being there for the first time in school history.
Zone restructuring by B.C School Sports for the 2019-20 calendar year will reflect growth in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley over the last several decades. Among the new zones being created is the Richmond, Delta and Surrey districts coming together for provincial qualifying in all sports.
That means Richmond basketball teams will be battling Vancouver, New West and Burnaby schools one last time for B.C. tournament berths at the Olympic Oval before going their separate ways.
“As a school and program, we have never made it to the ‘AAA’ Lower Mainlands,” said MacNeill head coach Steward Siy. “We did it when we were ‘AA’ size but not since then and that’s something we want to do this season, especially for our seniors.”
The Ravens served noticed they will be a contender in the Richmond Senior Boys Basketball League by opening their schedule with an entertaining 87-73 win over the Richmond Colts on Monday night.
MacNeill established its momentum in the opening half, jumping out to an early 11-0 lead, then producing a terrific second quarter that resulted in a 46-31 advantage at the half. The Colts showed why they were No. 8 in the provincial pre-season rankings by battling back within two points during the late stages of the fourth quarter before the Ravens sealed their biggest win at the senior level in two seasons.
Usman Tung led the winners with 20 points while Grade 10 guard Jackson Thackwray added 18.
After a 5-5 record in league play a year ago and missing out on one of the four "AAA" berths for the city playoffs, the Ravens' roster has been bolstered from incoming talent that captured the Richmond junior championship last season.
“It’s just the first win but our Grade 12 group really haven’t had a lot of success before,” continued Siy. “This is something new to them and they have been really committed and really dedicated. It’s great to see and it trickles down to the young kids too.”
It was a playoff type atmosphere for an early December game thanks to the Ravens' highly successful Stronger Than Cancer opening night that attracted a big and energized crowd. The five game schedule, all against Richmond High teams, served as a fundraiser for the B.C.Cancer Foundation.
“We started this five years ago after one of our staff members lost their dad to cancer and I lost my wife to cancer as well,” explained Siy. “B.C. Cancer Foundation has been really good to us and we wanted to make sure we were giving back. It teaches the kids to give back as well and everyone gets behind it.”
As for the Colts, the loss doesn’t dull the bigger picture of the highly competitive boys program that has been built over the last few years. Last season, the team earned a provincial berth behind the play of talented seniors Daniel Afanasiyevskyy and Murad Mohammed. Even with their departure, there is plenty of depth to keep the momentum going, including Grade 10 standout Arminas Ilcukas who led the way with 19 points against MacNeill. Key senior guard Anton Poburko added 18.
“It’s awesome. It’s my sixth season with the program and we have kind of done a 180 the last four or five years,” said head coach Brandon Harbour. “MacNeill is a tough team and we have to play a 40 minute game. We played about 30 minutes tonight and that’s not going to cut it against these guys. I think we are two of the top teams for sure and here were are playing them in the first game.”
It should be a competitive season in the city league with defending champion and pre-season No. 10 McMath also expected to be in the mix, along with Steveston-London. The always-tough McNair Marlins can never be counted out while Cambie and a promising Hugh Boyd team are expected to lead the way among “AA” size schools.
“You are going to see a lot of great guard play from (the Richmond league) this year,” predicted long-time Steveston-London head coach Mike Stoneburgh. “There’s going to be four or five out on offence all the time. Lots of run and gun like what Richmond used to be. It’s all about tempo.”
Stoneburgh, who also serves on the Lower Mainland Basketball executive, is disappointed to see an end of era, but is not surprised to see the changes coming either.
“It’s kind of of sad. We have been talking about what to do with all the trophies,” he added. “I actually think it’s not going to be a bad thing for Richmond as most of the Surrey schools are 4A (in size). But there will be less berths too so it’s going to be a real battle.”