Jassi Gill (5) and the Yale Lions are regarded as a legit threat to win the B.C. AAA high school boys basketball championship. The tourney tips off this week at the Langley Events Centre.

Jassi Gill (5) and the Yale Lions are regarded as a legit threat to win the B.C. AAA high school boys basketball championship. The tourney tips off this week at the Langley Events Centre.

Lions, Hawks in the hunt for B.C. AAA boys basketball title

The Yale Lions and W.J. Mouat Hawks are dreaming of cutting down the nets at the Langley Events Centre this week.

The B.C. AAA high school boys basketball championship is as wide-open as it’s ever been, and the Yale Lions and W.J. Mouat Hawks are dreaming of cutting down the nets at the Langley Events Centre as the tournament tips off this week.

The Lions are among the top contenders for the championship, as one of three teams to hold the No. 1 AAA ranking this season along with the Walnut Grove Gators and the Kitsilano Blue Demons.

But this group has a far different makeup than Al Friesen’s title-winning teams of 2008 and 2010 – they’re a smallish squad that relies on its pedal-to-the-metal pace to wear down opponents. By way of contrast, both of Yale’s title teams dominated in the paint, boasting the likes of Jasper Moedt and Josh Kufske in ’08 and Matt Letkeman in ’10.

So the question is, can these Lions rebound the ball well enough to win a championship? If they’re able to at least hold their own, they’ve got a good shot.

“We don’t have a beast waiting to be unleashed physically,” noted Friesen, whose team is led by senior swingman JJ Pankratz and Grade 10 point guard Jauquin Bennett-Boire. “The only beast we have is something emotional, mental, spiritual – can we get tougher there?

“It’s all about how tough you can become, how focused you can become, and how well you can channel that as a group for a common purpose,” he added. “We need to be mentally tougher at the less glorious parts of the game – weakside defence, off-the-ball defence, rebounding, loose balls.”

The Lions geared up for provincials by scrimmaging last Wednesday against members of the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team (Friesen’s son Adam is the Cascades’ head coach).

“They’re a lot bigger, a lot stronger than us,” Bennett-Boire said with a chuckle. “But we’re familiar with all those guys, so there was a lot of talking going on before we played.

“They beat us up a little bit, but it was good for us going to provincials. We’ve got to get the intensity level up.”

The Lions have lost just three games against Canadian competition this season – to Kitsilano at their home tournament back in December, and twice recently to Walnut Grove in the Fraser Valley East league and Fraser Valley regional playoffs.

In order to get over the hump and beat one of those teams in a Final Four game this weekend, Pankratz said it’s going to require a tough-minded performance in terms of rebounding and interior defence.

“We’ve got to send five guys to the boards,” he said, “and then obviously sprint the floor and get as many fast-break points as we can.

“We’ll have to play our best, for sure, but I think we have a good chance.”

MOUAT A DARK HORSE

The Hawks are a talented team in their own right – they opened the season ranked No. 5 and have been in and out of the top 10 at different points of the campaign.

They’re the biggest team in the field, with 6’11” Sebastian Muermann and 6’9″ Tristan Etienne, but aside from Grade 11 point guard Corey Hauck, they don’t boast a plethora of players who can create their own shots.

“We kind of have to go inside out first,” noted Hawks coach Rich Ralston. “We’ll need to have a complete team effort – it’s not just about relying on one or two guys. We have to have other guys step up, and we have to be able to stop people (defensively).”

As Ralston looks at the provincial tourney field, he sees four teams – Yale, Walnut Grove, Kitsilano and White Rock Christian Academy – who have distinguished themselves as the true elite. But there’s a second tier – St. George’s, Burnaby South and Mouat among them – that have the potential to pull off an upset.

“That next group of teams is capable of beating them on a good night,” said Ralston, whose group proved its bona fides by knocking off a Tamanawis squad in the Valley quarter-finals that had been ranked in the top five for much of the season.

“We have our moments, and in the Fraser Valleys, we focused a lot.”

LOCAL TEAMS TIP OFF WEDNESDAY

Both the Hawks and Lions begin their run at provincials on Wednesday. Mouat faces the Handsworth Royals at 10 a.m., followed by Yale vs. the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game between Burnaby Mountain and Caledonia at 11:30 a.m.

Abbynews.com will have ongoing coverage of the local teams.