Kelowna Owls perched at No. 1
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 – Submitted by Howard Tsumura, The Province
Kelowna’s Braxton Bunce wants to help power his team to the Okanagan’s first ever B.C. boys Triple A championship title this season, (PNG file photo)
VANCOUVER — When you think about Okanagan Zone Triple A boys basketball over the past quarter century, names like J.D. Jackson (Vernon, 1986), Jordie McTavish (Salmon Arm, 1996) and Kelly Olynyk (South Kamloops, 2009) all spring to mind.
All three truly great players, yet all three missing the brass ring that comes from winning the top prize in B.C. boys high school basketball.
“No team from our area has ever won it all,” reminds Kelowna Owls head coach Harry Parmar, in Vancouver earlier this week.
Not that Parmar is stressing that point to his team, which opens the 2011-12 season at No. 1 in The Province’s Big 10 rankings.
“Right now, we’re talking to them about standards, the stuff that we do,” he continued of a team attempting to become the first Okanagan Triple A boys team to win a B.C. title in the 67 years history of the championships. “If we do that, we’ll be fine. If we don’t, and we get into everyone else’s expectations, that’s when we can get into trouble.”
Yet it’s clear that Parmar and the Owls don’t need to gargle with a healthy dose of vinegar each morning because the bad taste they got from last season’s finish has clearly not washed away.
Ranked No. 1 for part of last season, the Kelowna senior varsity built an eight-point halftime lead in the B.C. quarterfinals against eventual finalist Vancouver College but lost 82-65. And the school’s junior varsity team, ranked No. 1 in B.C. heading into its provincials, was stunned in the opening round by Parksville’s Ballenas Whalers.
“It’s one of those things where we haven’t completed the journey yet,” said Parmar. “The returning guys have such a bad taste from how last year ended, and the guys from the junior team do, too. That’s the best part. I know we’re going to be the hunted, but we’re ready to go.”
Leading a deep and talented group are two of the province’s blue-chip senior talents in 6-foot-11 post Braxton Bunce and point guard Mitch Goodwin.
Bunce missed his entire Grade 10 year with two knee surgeries and was not at his best all of last season. But Parmar has seen a new level of determination in his big man, who is expected to not only dominate in the paint, but in the classroom where his 4.0 grade point average has led to a verbal commitment to play in the Ivy League next season at NCAA Div. 1 Cornell.
“Last year he was just getting his mojo back,” Parmar says. “I think he’s going to be twice the player he was. He’s going to be assertive. He’s going to be a bear. He’s going to be that aircraft carrier that you need to carry the load.”
If Bunce is the aircraft carrier, then Goodwin will be the guy with the goggles and scarf, giving the thumbs up sign for take-off.
Tough as nails, as he showed last season while reluctantly wearing a facial mask to protect a broken nose, Goodwin is a fierce competitor, top-end playmaker, and freakishly athletic.
Add to the front end of the rotation a trio of Grade 11s in Saskatchewan-transfer guard John Katerburg, as well as blue-collar 6-foot-3 Buzz Truss and still-growing, 6-foot-5 forward Darrion Bunce. Guards Malcolm Hlady, Joel Burma and Austin Axenty, as well as 6-foot-7 forward Nevin Knezevic also figure to see playing time.
Last season, Kelowna’s breakthrough came at the Terry Fox Legal Beagle invitational in early January, when as the No. 5-ranked team, it beat No. 4 Vancouver College, No. 9 Kitsilano and No. 1 Burnaby South before losing in the final to No. 2 R.C. Palmer of Richmond, the eventual B.C. champions.
This year, Parmar has scheduled tough again with his Owls playing at The TELUS BASKETBALL CLASSIC, the Abbotsford Collegiate Snowball and its own Western Canada Invite. It has also scheduled both Vancouver College and White Rock Christian in back-to-back February road games.
“We need it to be like we’re down south every day,” Parmar adds of the intensity required to become the Okanagan’s first B.C. boys Triple A champs. “We have to know we can handle adverse situations. If you go to the B.C.’s and then try and handle it, it doesn’t work. We will see how we play when the chips are down.”