Sherbrooke, QC – The U17 Mens basketball championships at the Canada Games wrapped up with Ontario claiming the gold for the third consecutive time in their age group, Manitoba making their second consecutive finals appearance, and Quebec reaching the podium on home soil.
The Quebec team faced a difficult New Brunswick squad who surprised throughout the week to finish in the top four. Quebec built an early advantage and led by as many as 25, but New Brunswick showed determination and brought the game back to within four down 55-51 halfway through the fourth.
“Everyone underestimated us from the start,” said Val Nelson, a 6-0 point guard that led NB in scoring. “They didn’t know we were going to come up to the top four and it feels great showing everybody we were better than they thought.”
With his team huddled up, Quebec coach Thierry Paul rallied his players and they controlled the rest of the game to win the medal that evaded them a year ago at the National Championships in Sherbrooke.
“I find not only consolation, but pride in that we worked and played hard as a team to get on the podium,” said coach Paul. “We’re going to remember this as a team, when I cross paths and see these guys years from now I’ll say we won something together. We have this forever.”
Quebec was led by Deniel Levitt’s 17 points, Abdul Atta’s six points and 16 rebounds, and Jerome Desrosiers nine points. Val Nelson led New Brunswick with 16.
“Like my coach said, the only medal you win is gold or bronze, I mean, we got a medal,” 6-7 interior presence Abdul Atta said with pride. “We were strong and we finished hard and that’s all that matters.”
The high intensity carried over to the next game as Ontario and Manitoba fans and athletes crowded the Palais des Sports facility for the gold medal match. As the game commenced it became clear Ontario had saved their best for last. The team had played well throughout the tournament, but put it all together in the final game and showed why they were the favorites from the outset.
Ontario dominated in the paint, on the rebounds, from behind the arc and in transition, forced turnovers and led by as many as 46 points in a display of talent and depth. Afterwards the players were able to reflect on not just the basketball gold but the experience of the Canada Games.
“It was probably the most amazing sports experience I’ve ever had, there’s nothing that can compare,” said Ontario 6-7 forward Brody Clarke who finished with a team-high 17 points. “It wasn’t just basketball we embraced everything of the Canada Games and had a great time, once in a lifetime.”
“There’s just talent down the ranks at every level in Ontario,” Clarke continued with the heavy medal hanging around his neck. “It’s going to continue to build and people are going to see how important it is to play for a provincial team.”
The Ontario players were also impressed with the competition at the tournament and all stressed their appreciation for basketball across the country.
“You can tell Canada Basketball is on the rise because it’s not just Ontario or Quebec any more,” said 5-10 point guard Calvin Epistola. “Manitoba’s right in the picture and I give them a lot of credit, BC’s usually near the top but the top but they finished low because there’s just so many other good teams.”
“Give credit to Newfoundland, give credit to Manitoba, New Brunswick. These guys and these coaches did a wonderful job,” said Ontario head coach Fatih Asker. “I knew we were mature enough to handle any barriers. We would have team meetings then these guys would go back to their dorm room and have their own meetings and be prepared for games psychologically.”
With five players in grade ten, team Ontario will be back again at 2014 nationals contending with serious potential across the country. For now, they get to enjoy the moment and celebrate their achievements at the Canada Games.