The King George Dragons reached an all-time school best when they finished fifth at the B.C. AA tournament in 2005. They aspired for more this post-season in Kamloops, but returned home having equalled their high-water mark set six years ago.
Head coach Darko Kulic, an alumni of that high-ranking team, put the recent fifth-place finish into perspective. “Losing a tough game when you have such high expectations is hard, but what’s harder is to keep the focus and stay determined to finish as high as possible. Our boys did this. They didn't slow down and fought hard the last two games, both which were tough. This made me really proud as it showed our teams mental toughness and unity to succeed together.”
The Dragons finished with an overall record of 37 wins and only five losses. They won seven tournaments, said Kulic, the team’s coach since the senior players were in Grade 9. “We have nothing but great memories from a great journey.”
Bilal Naqshbandy, Miguel Suarez, Kristian Hildebrandt, Omid Toussi and Robert Tcaciuc are the graduating seniors.
“I can honestly call them all my family for life,” said the coach. “We will do our best to make them proud next season.”
In the opening round of 16 at the AA provincial tournament, the Dragons beat Lambrick Park by a decisive 26-point margin. Hildebrandt, named a tournament all-star, had 34 points.
But they faltered in the semi-finals. Leading Mill Bay’s Brentwood by 10 at the half, the Dragons couldn’t hold and fell short 53-47. The loss meant the best they could do was fifth.
“In the provincial tournament, like the season, I feel that we executed our system very well, just unfortunately for one half things didn't go our way and we lost,” said Kulic.
On the consolation side of the bracket, a 68-55 win over Duchess Park pitted King George against North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes. Senior shooting guard Suarez nailed 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to maintain the Dragons’ lead. Toussi added nine for the 68-60 win.
“One of our mottos is ‘no regrets,’” said Kulic. “I am proud that we stuck together and were all determined to get the best result no matter what. After the loss, our leaders were very good and got everyone to stay focused on our goal and that is representing our school and community the right way.”
There was a special silver lining to the weekend. On Saturday the Dragons were surprised in Kamloops by a bus-load of King George alumni, parents, teachers and fans who made the trip to support the team.
Kulic’s parents came along for the ride. The coach said it was a moving, unforgettable experience.
He was at the bench, prepping for the day’s consolation game when a crowd of 60 fans walked into the gym.
“It was pretty emotional for all of us,” he said. “Our supporters have been such a huge part of our season on and off the court, so it was a great way to end the season with the feeling as if we were at home.”
The Dragons were undefeated in their own gym. “This felt like the 12th win,” said Kulic.
“Our crowds are passionate and they really give us a great positive energy, for this we thank all of them. Coming in a charter bus just for the game and then going straight back, that shows what kind of great school spirit we really have.”
He shouted out Natalie Vermass in particular. She organized the day-trip and coaches the King George senior girls basketball team while also working alongside Kulic at the Coal Harbour community centre.