Cameron Smythe, Braxston Bunce tower above opponents at Telus Classic

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 – Submitted by Yvonne Zacharias, Vancouver Sun


Braxston Bunce( left) of Kelowna Secondary and Cameron Smythe of Sir Charles Tupper at the Telus high school basketball tournament.
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, PNG
VANCOUVER – There is an old saying among basketball coaches that you can’t teach height.

You either have it or you don’t. Two basketball teams playing in this year’s Telus Classic high school tournament have it — big time.

Towering at seven feet and 6-11 respectively, Cameron Smythe with Sir Charles Tupper high school and Braxston Bunce with Kelowna secondary are making this year’s tournament a standout. It isn’t often that you get one, let alone two, players of such stature in the signature fall event in the high school basketball season.

Height in a player, as any basketball coach will tell you, is a great asset. It makes shots and rebounds that much easier. But it comes with its drawbacks. As physiques soar above everyone else on the court, so do expectations.

Fortunately, Smythe and Bunce, both Grade 12 students, have not come up short.

While the two will be on opposing sides in the tournament, they formed a friendship while playing together on the provincial team this summer. They had much in common. Besides being the two centres, they could talk about everything from shoe size to college prospects.

But of course, the fact that two guys are tall does not make them synonymous.

Smythe, who is still weighing his collegiate options for next year, is a rakish 180 pounds while Bunce, who is headed to Cornell University in New York state, weighs in at 250 pounds.

Given the difference in their physiques, Smythe is the quicker one on the court and while both play the mid-post, he plays more of a high-post kind of game while Bunce sticks closer to the net and plays more in the low-post position.

Their different weights bring different challenges.

“I have good movement, a good ability to run the floor,” said Smythe. But “it’s harder against bigger guys. It’s hard to body them, but I’m usually faster.”

Although Bunce is heavier, his coach, Harry Parmar, said he is the quintessential basketball player. “He has a good low-post game but he runs the floor, rebounds, passes, shoots and he takes up a lot of space. That’s a good thing.”

Well, good and bad. “One way teams will defend him is they will tell whoever is guarding him to fall down every time he transfers,” said Parmar. In terms of refereeing, “a lot of the benefit of the doubt goes to the smaller player. Is that fair to him? No, but hopefully he can get through it.”

Fortunately, Bunce, being an ambidextrous player, has no dominant side. “If you stop him from going the one way, he just goes the other way,” said Parmar. “It’s not like he is going to bullrush right through you.”

Bunce said he derives pleasure from being a presence on the floor and a leader on the team. Although he said he plays fairly close to the hoops and doesn’t bring the ball up that much, he is quite capable of nailing a three-point shot.

The two tall guys are different in temperament, too. Bunce tends to beat himself up when he misses a shot.

“Every time I get the ball, I think I should score so when I don’t, I struggle with that,” said Bunce, who says his fellow seven-footer, Smythe, is a bit more laid back than he is.

Jeff Gourley, the volunteer basketball coach at Tupper, has coached both boys at various times. The experience gave him pure joy.

And having a seven-footer on the team has definitely helped to rocket Tupper from being a bit of a laughing stock in basketball to being one of the top 10 teams in the province.

Smythe isn’t your average seven-footer, he said. Sometimes athletes who are that tall can have co-ordination problems. Not him. “He is just a magnificent athlete,” said Gourley.