The Kitsilano Blue Demons are riding a wave of confidence after they swept the senior boys basketball city and regional playoffs, culminating Friday night in 68-58 win over the Burnaby South Rebels to claim the AAA Lower Mainland title.
That wave crashed over the Rebels as the clock ticked down on the first half and Kitsilano power forward Noah de Rappard launched an improbable shot from 60 feet on the far side of the half-court line. His shot circled the rim and dropped for three points and a 40-35 advantage.
“That was unbelievable,” said Kitsilano assistant coach Trevor Mills. “That gave us the boost to know that we can do this, that we were here tonight to win.”
The lead changed four times in the fast, hard-fought first half, and Burnaby South kept the Demons in check by scoring 18 of their 35 points from beyond the arc. Kitsilano pushed a high tempo and played a physical inside game but couldn’t pull away. When de Rappard hit his shot to close the half, hundreds of Kitsilano fans jumped to their feet and dozens swarmed the court at the Stan Lawson Gymnasium.
“Noah is a fairly reserved player,” said Mills, “and to see that energy, he just said, ‘Let’s go!’ and was running off the floor. I think everyone who saw that, it was once in a lifetime.”
De Rappard, remarkably, hit a similar half-time buzzer beater as a Grade 8 player. He led the Demons with 23 points.
The intensity of the first two quarters didn’t let up after the half. To open the third quarter, Burnaby hit two quick three-point shots and went on an 8-1 run.
His team down by three, Kitsilano point guard Justin Sze pulled out an incredible play to chip into the lead and swing momentum. The six-foot-one Demon blocked a lay-up on a Burnaby fast-break and, still airborne, snatched the ball out of the air before firing it down court to a Kitsilano shooter.
Sze, named a first-team all-star, had six steals and six points.
“When Justin starts stealing the ball at half court, things start happening,” said Mills. “The other team loses a bit of confidence. It’s a fundamental thing if you can’t bring the ball over half court.”
The Rebels took a 50-47 lead on another shot from outside with three minutes left in the third quarter and Kitsilano pulled in offensive rebounds but couldn’t score on second and third chances. Burnaby outscored Kitsilano 15-13 in the third quarter, the only frame in which the visitors held the lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kitsilano started to show the advantage of its depth and one reason for its confidence.
To take a 60-52 lead, the Demons swung the ball around the arc from one corner to the next, finally needling a pass inside to Luka Zaharijevic who banked a shot for two points. In less than eight seconds, all five players handled the ball.
Zaharijevic was named the tournament MVP, a recognition he shared with his teammates.
“As a team we all played great,” he said. “Almost every game we had five or six guys in double figures so it wasn’t just one person, it was the whole team. It doesn’t matter who scores as long as we’re getting the Ws.”
Eight Demons were on the score board in Friday’s final. Zaharijevic had 16 points and seven blocks.
“We are one of the best teams in the province because our bench is so deep,” said Zaharijevic. “It doesn’t matter really who is on from one to 12, we can put in anyone and they will contribute and play their role. That’s the beauty of our team.”
Kitsilano head coach Randy Coutts was named the Lower Mainland coach of the year. His eyes welled with tears as he accepted the Mike Potkonjak award. He thanked his wife, Denise, as well as the many volunteers who contribute to high school basketball.
In addition to Kitsilano, the St. George’s Saints and Churchill Bulldogs advance to provincials.
Along with Sze, Churchill’s Mindy Minhas and St. George’s Drew Urquhart and Deklan Chung were named to the first all-star team. With an average 28.8 points per game, Urquhart was named the offensive player of the tournament.