Northwest B.C. boys tipped off in a friendly scrimmage earlier this month, part of the lead up to a series of out-of-town tournaments that will pit the northwest teams against players from across B.C.
Following the May 9 matchup, the two teams – a U15 club based here in Terrace and a U17 club based in Smithers – head to Langley, the U15s for the Basketball BC U15 Zone Team Championship and the U17s for the Basketball BC U17 Club Championship.
The committment shown by the boys on the team is impressive, said Mike Johnson, who coaches the U15 team with Denis Burnip. “We have two boys from Haida Gwaii, one from Kitkatla, one from Lax Kw’alaams, one from Prince Rupert, three from Terrace, three from the Nass Valley and one from Smithers all travelling to Terrace to practice each weekend. The boys from the coast communities have been taking ferries or float planes to Prince Rupert and then driving to Terrace.
“It has been great to bring the boys from all around the region together and the game was cool for me as a parent as well as I have a son on each of the teams,” said Johnson.
The U17 team, the Northwest Jr. Timberwolves, is affiliated with the UNBC basketball program and coached by Matt Lowndes. That team has boys from all over the region as well – Lax Kw’alaams, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Hazelton, and Smithers – and have been practising every weekend in Smithers or Terrace. They’re a strong group, winning a tournament earlier in the season at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
“The overall athleticism and quality of coaching the kids are getting in their school programs has helped them grasp the concepts we’re trying to get across,” said Lowndes. “They’re a good group of kids and have bought into playing for each other, which translates to good success on the court.”
This year was a testing year for the program, said Lowndes, who said he’s still not sure what the future of the program will look like.
“If we continue in the future, Mike’s U15 group should help us,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is geography, as it’s pretty tough to get together for practices, so rather then focusing on systems, we’re focusing on skill development, and life experiences.
“We’ve been happy with the number of kids that we’ve gotten out, and for the future we’d like to see more,” he said. “We just wanted to connect athletes in the Northwest and provide them with some experiences and some memories.”
He said the support of Todd Jordan, the UNBC Timberwolves Men’s head coach, has been a benefit. Having athletes “exposed to college level coaching is always a good thing.”