Haida Gwaii’s Skidegate Saints dreamed of a championship when they came to compete in the 2012 B.C. Junior All-Native basketball tournament in Port Alberni last week.
Playing before a crowd of 900 fans at the Alberni Athletic Hall, the Saints beat the Heiltsuk Nation 66-62 to take the boys division title.
Saints’ Joel Richardson was named boys division MVP. He didn’t score the most points in the tourney; that honour went to his teammate, Nathan Vogstad (151 points in nine games). But Richardson’s combination of consistency, well rounded game, defence and leadership gave him the nod.
“His teammates looked to him at key times even when the crowd didn’t,” all-star committee member Rick Lindholm said.
With the sound of a traditional song echoing in the hall, Saints players performed a victory dance around the gym floor after the win.
“Give respect where respect is due – to the boys here,” Saints head coach Desi Collinson said, motioning to his players. “They worked hard for this and you can’t deny them the respect they deserve.”
Heiltsuk plowed through the winners bracket and were 5-0 coming into the final. Skidegate meanwhile dropped to the losers bracket after a loss to Penticton’s Sylix, and battled through six games in two days to get to the championship.
The teams played at break-neck speed from the opening tipoff, attacking each other with fast breaks. Skidegate played more tenaciously though, building an 18-9 lead in the first quarter and a 33-23 lead at the half.
Heiltsuk closed within one point at 46-45 in the third quarter but key baskets by Vogstad kept them from pulling ahead.
“We switched up our defense too from man-to-man to zone then back to keep them off balance,” Collinson said. “We took it back right after.”
All of Skidegate’s players are eligible (age 17 and under) to play in the 2013 Junior All-Native, which is being held in New Aiyansh in northern B.C.
“Our team never played at 100 per cent in this tournament,” Collinson said. “I know I can squeeze about 10 per cent more out of them.”
Both teams possessed skilled players but Skidegate’s win came down to a critical intangible. “They had the drive through the whole game,” Heiltsuk head coach Gord Gladstone said. “You’ve gotta want it when you want the title.”
Heiltsuk missed layups at key points in the game and strayed away from driving the ball into the key then passing to the wing, a factor in closing the gap in the score.
Heiltsuk is a young team that will make it all the way someday, Gladstone said. “I lost six players last year and we’re a lot younger than Skidegate is,” he said. “We’ll be back strong.”
Playing six games in two days and three before that made the title win all the more worthwhile, MVP Richardson said. “I’ve never played so much basketball in so short a time in all my life,” he said. “We took the long road and it was a big hump to get over, but we did it.”
This is the fifth Junior All-Native Richardson has played in. The closest the team came before was third place. “We really wanted it this time right through and we got it,” he said.
Next year is Richardson’s last Junior All-Native and he’s already set goals that go beyond it. “I want to study psychology and play ball at a Division One university after I graduate from high school,” he said.
Read about the girls championship game here.