The best athletes are never satisfied with themselves.
Ask Mindy Minhas what he wants and he’ll tell you he wants to be the best — “I don’t want to be second,” he said — and he’ll follow that promise with an even greater purpose. He wants to get better in every way.
“I want to be considered the best,” he added. “That’s something I work for every day. I feel like you can always work harder, there is always something you can do better.”
Minhas is not only the leading scorer, the six-foot-four, Grade 11 student is the offensive core and catalyst for the Churchill Bulldogs, a team that returned to the senior boys AAA basketball provincials for the second time in 42 years this week at the Langley Events Centre.
On Tuesday they beat Pitt Meadows 67-64 in overtime to advance to the second round. Minhas was the player of the game.
Speaking with the Courier outside the Langara YMCA on a Saturday afternoon with his father, Minhas idolizes players like NBA superstar Kobe Bryant because of his tireless work ethic and the legendary drive that has him up shooting hoops at 4 a.m.
Churchill head coach Rick Lopez said Minhas, who rises before dawn to hit the hardwood at the YMCA on 49th Avenue, has adopted the same never-quit attitude.
“He’s the hardest worker and most dedicated player I have ever coached,” said Lopez.
Basketball analysts and coaches speculate that Minhas, who turned 17 last month, may indeed be the best player in the province. He’s been at the top of his class since Grade 7 when, as a six-foot-one 12-year-old, he’d post ridiculous numbers and score 50-, 60-, 70-plus points and make his point with half a dozen dunks on the lower elementary school hoops. Travelling to U.S. tournaments with his all-star club team, Drive Basketball, Minhas regularly takes home MVP honours. He was named to the Vancouver and Lower Mainland championship first all-star teams.
When he was younger, doubters questioned his ability to stay at the top. The skeptics still don’t keep quiet.
Against Kitsilano in the city championship Feb. 16, Minhas was held to seven points in the first half and missed high-percentage shots including free throws. It was not his best game and the home crowd let him hear it. “Overrated! Overrated!” The chant persisted all night, even through the second half when Minhas surged back with 18 points. Churchill lost 82-66.
He said the hissing and criticism doesn’t get to him.
“At first I didn’t really care, but people started saying, ‘It’s affecting you, it’s affecting you.’ I was just telling them it’s not affecting me. I was missing free throws because my shot was off. People said it was because of the chants, but it wasn’t because of the chants.”
He’d already been working closely with Churchill’s Lopez to adjust his form and technique. And no one can argue 25 points isn’t a contribution.
In one trip down the court in that city final against Kits, Minhas, triple-teamed, outwitted his defenders and cut to the corner from the top of the key to attempt a three-pointer. He missed, but the Bulldogs found him again, this time in the opposite corner, and this time Minhas was good for three, hitting his 24th point in a game Churchill was not going to win.
Minhas presents a risk his opponents can’t ignore. They’ll stack defenders on him through four quarters, whatever the score, because he has the ability and stubborn aggressiveness to turn a losing game into a win.
Watching the Bulldogs practise last week from the sidelines, Minhas picked up points he wanted to improve in himself and spotted tricks to make the players around him better.
“I realized how my teammates score, where they would like the ball and how I can get it to them,” he said. “Now, going into the game every night I think about it. I visualize it. I have a better image of my teammates scoring, how they score and where they ant the ball.”
Minhas and his younger brother Gary, a grade 10 student at Churchill and another stand-out talent, live close enough to the Langara YMCA that the gym is like a second home.
His father, Dharam, is regularly with him, rebounding balls and offering analysis. Come game time, the senior Minhas wants to see his son drive to the hoop.
“I want my sons to be the best players,” said the elder Minhas. “They are the best, I know that. Now they are on the edge. If they work hard, they can go anywhere.”
In his Grade 7 year, Minhas applied to two Vancouver private boys schools, St. George’s and Vancouver College. Both schools rejected the application.
After Grade 8 once the scouting report was in on Minhas, St. George’s and Vancouver College came calling. Minhas received letters from both schools, he recalled. He was offered scholarships but his loyalty was established.
“I’m happy at Churchill,” he said. “Churchill is a great school. I made a lot of friends there. I didn’t want to move.”
Minhas has been good for Churchill, too.
“Everybody knew he was going to be a good player. I think he’s been a perfect fit at Churchill,” said Drive co-founder and close friend Pasha Bains. “He’s been kind of a pioneer for the resurgence. All the younger kids really look up to him. That’s another role he’s grown into, he’s become a really good role model.”
Minhas and Bains, who was named the best basketball player in B.C. more than a decade ago, have become as close as family. Minhas said his mentor has played a large role in his life.
“He’s the one who taught me what hard work meant, I still remember. Before I came to Drive I would just shoot around, I wouldn’t really work at anything. I’d go play pick up, one-on-one, never really work on any of my skills,” he said. “[Bains] told me that if I want to be good, I have to work harder than everybody else.”
But like his father, Minhas’s drive ultimately comes from inside.
“I want to play basketball as long as I can,” he said. “I don’t want it to end.”