Panthers' Brar becoming a part of Snowball lore as four-year starter

The Snowball Classic has been contested for 53 years – or more than three decades longer than Devin Brar has been on the planet.

Brar, though, is a true authority on what the storied basketball tournament means to the school community at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.

The 6'5" Grade 12 forward will become a rare – if not unprecedented – four-year Snowball starter when the 2013 edition of the high school boys tourney tips off next week (Jan. 9-12). He's been a fixture in the starting lineup for the host Panthers since 2010, when he was in Grade 9.

"At the Snowball the first year, I was really nervous," Brar said with a grin, recalling his tourney debut vs. the MEI Eagles in front of a capacity crowd at The Pit, Abby Senior's historic old gym. "Coming from Grade 8 and going up to senior, it was a big change. I had to adapt to it really quick.

"Playing in front of the crowd was amazing. As the years progress, you kind of calm down a bit and play like it's any other game."

Brar's baptism by fire at the Snowball has helped to shape him into the mature, dynamic player he is today. He helped the B.C. under-17 provincial team to a bronze medal at nationals last summer.

"He's had a huge impact on our program," Panthers coach Prentice Lenz said of Brar. "He's had an exceptional run of it here.

"We're really happy with they way things have worked out for him, and how well he has matured, both as a basketball player and a student, and as a person. I think it's pretty special."

The Snowball itself is pretty special – the tourney has been the crown jewel of the local high school boys basketball scene dating back to 1961.

"It means a lot to the school," Brar said. "We have a big reputation for this tournament, and I think every body enjoys it. A lot of people come out, and it means a lot to our team."

"The number of people who have put time into the program, not only this year but for the past half-century, is pretty incredible," Lenz echoed. "For the school, it's a huge event, and it encompasses a lot of staff, administration and support workers. We even have school board people who come out and help. You couldn't run it without that sort of help."

The Snowball's current gilded age began in 2008, when organizers started bringing in a top American team each year to boost fan interest. Previous headliners have come from Alabama, Wisconsin, New York, California and Rhode Island.

This year, the Fairfax Lions of Los Angeles (who also attended the Snowball in 2011) will take on a strong field of Canadian teams. Three of B.C.'s top 10 AAA squads (No. 2 Yale, No. 6 Kelowna and No. 7 St. George's) and two honourable mentions (W.J. Mouat and Burnaby South) will be in attendance, along with Manitoba's No. 2-ranked AAAA team, the Oak Park Raiders of Winnipeg.

Lenz said it's exciting that Fairfax, a Nike-sponsored program which has won a pair of California 1A state titles in the past decade, is coming back for a second run at the Snowball title.

"I think it's a fantastic field," he said.

For more coverage of the Fairfax Lions, click here.

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