What had the intensity and the setting of a league playoff game was actually nothing more than two local senior boys basketball teams getting their feet wet for the long season ahead.
The South Delta Sun Devils and the Delta Pacers put on an entertaining show on Monday night in Tsawwassen with the hosts rallying late for a 75-67 victory. The pre-season tilt provided a preview of two squads that could be in the hunt for provincial berths come February.
The Sun Devils have never reached the B.C. "AAA" tournament which quite remarkable given the success of so many other teams at the school. They have plenty of size, a dynamic point guard and an experienced head coach.
James Johnston had success in building a solid program at Seaquam secondary before arriving at SDSS last year as a vice-principal. His line-up includes Dustin Triano, the son of former Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano, who is in his fourth year playing at the senior level.
Johnston watched his team trail most of the night then rally in the fourth quarter behind the terrific play of Triano, who finished with a game-high 35 points. They also made good use of a size advantage in the paint, led by the 21 points of Ontario transfer Nolan Sullivan.
"We are a big team and we got to get the ball inside and get the bigs some touches despite the fact our best player is a guard," said Johnston. "I really like the patience that we had to the point where (laughing) I think our guys were much more patient than the people here watching.
"That's exactly what we need Dustin to do. We don't need him to be the best player in the first three quarters. We want him to be the best player in the fourth quarter and he definitely was tonight."
The Sun Devils showed potential of challenging for a provincial tourney berth last season, only to falter down the stretch, especially against tougher competition. Johnston is hoping to get his kids more battle tested for the road ahead with a challenging schedule that includes tournaments at Claremont (Victoria) and Pitt Meadows.
"We are starting to see the character come out a little bit and that desire to win," he added. "I think that will be the difference once we get into February. Last year maybe we didn't have that down the stretch. It was a valuable lesson to learn."
The Pacers are also carrying their fortunes on the shoulders of a talented point guard but have a much different blueprint.
Three years ago, Lucas Gossen was aged up to the senior level to help a group of Grade 12s get to the provincials. He did just that with a significant role as Grade 10 player. Now he is considered among the top 10 seniors in all of B.C. with much of his development as a player through the DRIVE academy in Richmond.
In an effort to get Gossen to close out his high school career at the Langley Events Centre next March, three Grade 10 standouts - Ryan Cowley, Andrew Jones and Gursharn Bajwa - have been brought up to join him. It means some early season growing pains could pay off two months from now.
"What Lucas brings is real good leadership and one of his big challenges is making everyone feel comfortable around him. He is stepping up and doing that," said Terry Ainge, who is handled the coaching duties this season along with Scott Masse. "Our guys came out a little nervous but settled in and played well. We are a team that is definitely trending up."
Ainge also know his squad will have to pay better attention to Triano next time they meet at the end of January in league play, especially in the fourth quarter when the Devils exploded for 29 points.
"He is a very good player that made some good plays but we still didn't expect to see them score that many points. It's quite a treat to see two point guards of that quality playing in the same league."
The Pacers were also missing three players for the game due to their commitment to the school volleyball team that is headed to this weekend's provincial "AAA" championships.
© Copyright 2013