Since 2008, the Snowball Classic boys basketball tournament at Abbotsford Senior Secondary has been headlined by elite American teams, as organizers brought in squads from Alabama, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island and California.
The 54th annual edition of the Snowball, which runs Jan. 15-18, will have a different theme. It’ll be a celebration of Canadian hoops, as the Father Henry Carr Crusaders of Etiobicoke, Ont. fly west to take on a collection of B.C.’s best teams.
And make no mistake, there’s a lot to celebrate with respect to Canadian basketball, and in particular the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that the Crusaders hail from.
In recent years, Toronto natives Anthony Bennett (first overall, 2013) and Tristan Thompson (fourth overall, 2011) have been nosebleed-high NBA draft choices by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and young point guard Cory Joseph made an appearance in the 2013 NBA finals with the San Antonio Spurs.
The next wave of GTA prospects is potentially even more exciting – Andrew Wiggins, a high-flying freshman from Thornhill, Ont. who’s currently a freshman with the University of Kansas Jayhawks, could well be the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Father Henry Carr alum Tyler Ennis, also a freshman, is the starting point guard with the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked team, the Syracuse Orange.
“It’s a great time for Canada basketball, and to be more specific, the GTA,” noted Crusaders coach Paul Melnik. “Many of these guys have played against us, and some have played for us.”
While Snowball Classic organizers are thrilled at bringing in a top Toronto-area team like the Crusaders, how it came about was something of an accident.
The St. Andrew’s Saints, a prep school team from Rhode Island, were originally slated to headline the 2014 Snowball. But B.C. School Sports is enforcing a policy this year whereby prep schools are no longer allowed to compete in high school tourneys in the province, and the Abby Senior staff weren’t informed of the change until Nov. 19.
That sent them scrambling, and they were fortunately able to land the Crusaders, who finished second at the Ontario AAAA provincial championships last season and are currently ranked No. 4 in Canada by northpolehoops.com.
“We’ve actually wanted them to come out for a number of years, and this year it worked and they were able to clear their schedule,” said Prentice Lenz, head coach of the host Abby Senior Panthers. “It’s pretty exciting.”
While Ontario’s basketball scene is obviously red-hot, Lenz noted that B.C.’s hoops community has a lot to be proud of too, with recent grads like Kelly Olynyk (Boston Celtics) and Rob Sacre (L.A. Lakers) joining two-time MVP Steve Nash in the NBA.
“Everyone’s always talking about the difference between provinces, and it’s going to be fun to see an elite Ontario team compete against some of the best teams in B.C.,” he said.
The Crusaders boast a strong core of seniors, including guards Ty Stewart-Nelson, Brendon Chevannes, Marcus Bonnick and Girece Kazumba, and 6’5” forward William Maylor, who recently returned to the lineup following a back injury.
Melnik is also thrilled about the potential of a pair of 6’3” Grade 10 forwards, Anthony McNish and Grant Audu.
“They’re playing more minutes at a younger age than many have over the years,” he noted. “Anthony is a tremendous post player . . . Grant is more of a guard. He shoots it pretty well.”
The Crusaders travel extensively in the U.S. for tournaments, but this is the first time they’ve made a trip to B.C.
“We’re excited to come out and play against B.C.’s best,” Melnik said. “We hope that people like the style of basketball we play.
“We play uptempo on both sides of the ball – we press, we fast-break. We can also slow it down and run offence on you . . . We do a little of everything.”
The B.C. contingent at the Snowball includes six teams mentioned in the AAAA rankings, including the No. 7 Sardis Falcons; the W.J. Mouat Hawks and Burnaby South Rebels, who are tied for 10th; and the MEI Eagles, Yale Lions and St. George’s Saints, who are honourable mentions.
The host Abby Senior Panthers are No. 5 in the AAA poll, while the South Okanagan Hornets of Oliver are No. 4 in AA.
The Panthers open the tourney on Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. vs. the Bateman Timberwolves, while the rest of the teams get started on Thursday. A complete schedule is posted below.
SNOWBALL CLASSIC SCHEDULE
Wednesday, Jan. 15
Game 1 – 12:45 p.m., Abby Senior vs. Bateman
Thursday, Jan. 16
Game 2 – 9:30 a.m., South Okanagan vs. Vancouver College
Game 3 – 11:15 a.m., St. George’s vs. W.J. Mouat
Game 4 – 1 p.m., MEI vs. Kelowna
Game 5 – 3 p.m., Burnaby South vs. Winner Game 3
Game 6 – 4:45 p.m., Yale vs. Winner Game 3
Game 7 – 6:30 p.m., Sardis vs. Winner Game 1
Game 8 – 8:15 p.m., Henry Carr vs. Winner Game 4
Friday, Jan. 17
Game 9 – 10:45 a.m., L4 vs. L2
Game 10 – 12:30 p.m., L1 vs. L3
Game 11 – 2:15 p.m., L8 vs. L5
Game 12 – 4 p.m., L7 vs. L6
Game 13 – 6 p.m., W7 vs. W6
Game 14 – 8 p.m., W8 vs. W5
Saturday, Jan. 18
Game 15 – 10:45 a.m., L9 vs. L10
Game 16 – 12:30 p.m., W9 vs. W10
Game 17 – 2:15 p.m., L11 vs. L12
Game 18 – 4 p.m., W11 vs. W12
Game 19 – 6 p.m., L14 vs. L13
Game 20 – 8 p.m., W14 vs. W13