It’s early in the learning curve, but New Westminster Hyacks head coach Ted Cusick sees some good signs for the 2019/20 senior boys high school basketball season.
With just four games under their belts, the tea leaves are still steeping in what is hopefully a promising four-months-long journey. They’ve got a couple of wins, a couple of losses against some strong competition, and already been tagged with a little adversity.
Although they’ve lost their past two games, and imploded a bit in both, the fact that they’ve yet to be blown out by either ranked rival has been a positive sign.
“Wow, to be that close and play that poorly,” remarked Cusick. “Look out. Right now we’re playing gym-rat basketball, but we’re right in every game and not playing our best yet.”
And it’s just less than two weeks of real playing time.
Not to say it’s all rainbows and sunshine.
Take Wednesday’s opening affair of the Tsumura Invitational in Langley, where the Hyacks drew a tough opponent in the honourably mentioned Heritage Woods Kodiaks.
A polished stretch where New West out-paced its fellow 4-A rival and groomed a 48-40 advantage put them on a steady course entering the final few minutes, giving them a chance to advance to the winner’s bracket of the 20-team tourney.
It all came crashing down, however, when the Kodiaks shut down the shooting lanes and went on an 18-6 run en route to a 58-54 victory on opening day.
Combined with last week’s 85-67 setback to 3-A and No. 4-ranked St. Patrick’s last week in the Big Ticket tournament, and it appears there is still some work to go to close the gap from a ‘missed it by that much’ team to a consistent underdog threat.
“Our shooting hasn’t been what I’d hoped for,” Cusick said following the loss to St. Pat’s, and reflected in Wednesday’s result where they connected on just 18 of 50 field goal attempts. “It’s just a matter of time, because I’ve seen them shoot.”
Against Heritage Woods, Bradie Traverse led the team with 11 points, while Kirk Bothwell contributed nine points and 13 rebounds. Chipping in eight points and eight boards was Quentin Leberg, Caleb Johnson with nine rebounds and three points, and Uday Mangat offered up a poker hand of five points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals before drawing his fifth foul.
Fouls were also an issue against St. Pat’s, when Bothwell reached the maximum and was tossed from the game for hanging on the rim a tad too long after a dunk. While Cusick said the referee’s call was within the letter of the law, it was tone deaf on the spirit, as well as the timing.
“We’ve got to keep Kirk on the floor. It was just a horrible call, and he’s such an important part on defence and offence for us,” said the veteran coach.
The team is also dealing with the absence of two players, with six-foot-seven Adam Durnev suffering from a swollen hand, and another player lost for a month due to elbow surgery.
Cusick said although the team will miss the pair, his bench is capable of handling the load, having kept 14 players to start the season.
“It makes it a lot easier, although I don’t usually like such a long bench,” said Cusick. “We’ve got lots of depth and anyone of them could start.
Over the first week the team showed a distressing trend for turnovers, averaging 24 per game at the Big Ticket. It only compounded the problem against Heritage Woods, exploding to 34 on the day. However, he points to the St. Pat’s game as to a sign of progress, when they committed 15 turnovers in the first half, and only six in the second half.
Each game, which includes Thursday’s contest against another provincial ranked (honourable mention) opponent, Fleetwood Park (1:30 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre), can only be a plus as they gather chemistry and playing experience under his system. The one aspect that’s frustrated him most so far has been what he calls an occasional tendency to revert to a ‘matador defence.’
“I call it the matador defence because you’ll have a guy drive past you and you just wave the cape, like a bullfighter.”
New West continues this weekend at the Tsumura Invitational, then return home for a schedule exhibition game Monday against Sands of Delta. On Dec. 15, the squad will kick-off its annual Bob Gair Classic tournament when they host league rival Cariboo Hill.
League play kicks into high gear on Tuesday when the Hyacks visit Burnaby North, with a 7 p.m. start time.