High drama at first day of OFSAA quad-A hoops tourney

WINDSOR -

To many in high-school basketball circles, the Holy Names Knights were a bunch of no-names, decided underdogs against the established hoops program from Eastern Commerce.

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On Monday, the first of OFSAA’s three-day Quad-A tournament, Holy Names basketball made a name for itself, making instant believers of the doubters.

And all it took was a buzzer-beater for the ages, an unlikely heave from beyond the three-point arc that could be heard throughout Windsor and the surrounding area.

One shot and one memorable win, one heckuva display of perseverance and composure when the Knights trailed by nine points in the final quarter, and one brilliant sequence of athleticism and shot-making produced by Grade 12 student Isiah Familia, who should become more familiar to basketball watchers as he continues to evolve.

It was frantic mode — the designed play to create a look gone awry — the clock ticking, but Familia got the ball in his hands with plenty of Eastern Commerce hands in his face.

“I didn’t have any confidence when I released it,’’ Familia admitted in the wake of his team’s heart-stopping 55-54 win. “I didn’t think it was going in. My teammate knew, and I have to give glory to God on that one.”

No one should ever take away from the win, a shocker by any definition, but the Saints, who are appearing in their final OFSAA event, had more than a few chances to avoid the late-game misery.

For some reason, Eastern didn’t run its offence when building the nine-point edge, settling for jumpers from the outside rather than attacking the rim.

It looked disjointed on defence, yielding great looks from the perimeter that began to drop for the Knights.

When a three-ball hit back iron, there was a run out and an easy, uncontested, breakaway layup that couldn’t be converted into a bucket, a score that would have sealed the deal.

What ensued was sheer joy for the Holy Names — and complete devastation for Eastern Commerce.

Knights head coach Kyle Kane and his staff did a great job of conveying belief to their kids, prodding and extracting the most out of this group.

When the ball ended up in Familia’s hands, it evoked many memories from his formative days in basketball.

“It’s one of those shots you dream of from the time you’re a little kid,’’ he said. “You go to sleep dreaming of hitting those shots. I dreamed about those shots all the time.

“To make one is hard to put into words. I’ve never had a game-winning shot and I’ve been playing for 11 years. It’s great to hit it on this stage against a great Eastern Commerce team.”

As the ball found net, bedlam erupted at the University of Windsor, a local team knocking off one of the top dogs from Hogtown.

“I was at a loss for words,’’ continued Familia. “All I saw was everyone running at me. It was just a blur, a great moment for our team, a great moment in my basketball career, especially against a great team such as Eastern Commerce, a very scrappy team.

“To get this win in the city of Windsor makes it sweeter.”

The Saints were to play Ottawa Glebe in a late tip on Monday, with the winner advancing to play the No. 1 St. Mike’s Blue Raiders on Tuesday morning.

When a team loses at OFSAA on Day 1, they are forced to play an extra game on the same day.

Monday’s winners will have to win two games on Tuesday to advance to Wednesday’s semifinal and final stages.

It’s a gruelling format that must be addressed, too many games within too few days in a double-knockout format that quickly becomes a one-and-done following the first day of action.

The Knights were ecstatic.

Khoder Ahmad, Isiah Byrd, Alston Gayle, Nicholas Mihalo, Noah Pio, Ahad Shah and Ahmad Shah, to name a few, left everything out on the floor.

For Gayle, it vindicated his decision to return for his fifth and final season at Holy Names.

“We were the underdogs going in and we had nothing to lose,’’ said Gayle. “We just played hard.”

Playing with focus and an unwavering competitive spirit didn’t hurt, either.

“The key was our composure,’’ he added. “As a team we stayed together, we didn’t get down on each other. I’ve been in these situations before during my career, but this is by far the biggest win in my high school career.

“We knew Eastern Commerce and how big a program in Toronto it’s been, the many OFSAA titles. It’s why this win is so big for us.”

BARONS TAKE FIRST STEP

The Barons of the hardwood took their first step in attempting to repeat as OFSAA champions.

Bigger steps against more established programs await, but it’s never a bad thing when a win gets produced on the opening day of play at the provincial high school showcase.

For the Oakwood Barons, a team that relies on unselfish basketball and communication, that step was forged Monday, a day when the city of Toronto champs knocked off London’s Beal Raiders 50-42.

The Barons punched first, jumping out to a 14-9 lead after the opening quarter, taking a 29-28 advantage into the break. Steven Rahwire, a 6-foot-2 guard who is only in Grade 10, paced Oakwood, the tourney’s No. 4 seed, by scoring a game-high 18 points, while James Jackson led Beal. One of the endearing qualities to Oakwood’s program has been its ability to tap into its roots, providing guidance and basketball acumen from its coaching ranks.

Norm Clarke, one of the all-time great high school players the GTA has ever produced, has served under head coach Andy Miller, watching his oldest son, Julian, lead Oakwood to an OFSAA title in 2010, then celebrating a second last year with Brodie Clarke as the anchor down low.

CRUSADERS CRUISE TO WIN OVER GLEBE

No single player is being asked to take over games, no plays designed to have the ball run through one player’s hands in crunch time.

With Carr basketball, the team supersedes the individual.

While the program has produced some of the nation’s top high-school players, this year’s OFSAA entry has talent spread across the board.

In the second half of Monday’s opening win over Ottawa Glebe, timely shooting, defence, rebounding and getting out in transition became the calling cards in helping the Henry Carr Crusaders pull away in their 79-42 victory.

At the break, it was a 32-26 game.

Carlo Dubria led the way with his three-point shooting, Shamar Bailey-Decoteau controlled the glass, Shae Brown’s quick hands forced steals in helping to ignite fast-break opportunities, while Mychael Paulo and Grade 10 student John Akende took turns imposing their will.

As always, Marcus Bonnick was his usual calming presence.

At halftime, the message from head coach Paul Melnik was clear, his team committing far too many turnovers in the game’s opening 16 minutes.

“Our sloppy play was keeping them in the game and that’s what I told our kids,’’ said Melnik, whose teams have played in the last two OFSAA finals, losing to St. Mike’s in overtime two years ago and to Oakwood last year in a one-possession game. “I’d say we had 15 turnovers by halftime. I told them to eliminate their turnovers and stop the silly fouls. Let the game come to you, just settle down.”

In the second half, Carr clearly was the superior side.

GOOD START FOR RAIDERS

For the No. 1 seed St. Mike’s Blue Raiders, the No. 33 looked pretty impressive when they glanced at the scoreboard and saw the point total next to their name.

As starts go, it was as good as it could possibly get, an emphatic first punch thrown in the first game of the OFSAA basketball tournament.

St. Mike’s was getting to the basket with impunity, stops were made and the lead increased with each possession.

But then came the inevitable letdown — and a lesson in sustaining one’s level of play.

Credit Hamilton’s MacNab Lions for regrouping, making it a nine-point game before succumbing 70-53.

“To score 33 points in the first quarter is a nice way to start,’’ began St. Mike’s head coach Jeff Zownir. “As coaches, you want the same intensity level throughout the game, but with kids they sometimes look at the scoreboard a little bit.

“MacNab has a good team and we are playing against the top competition in the province.”

At the top, you will find St. Mike’s, a basketball program that captured OFSAA gold two years ago in Windsor, the storied school’s first in its long and distinguished history.

Entering the three-day event, St. Mike’s had played twice in the past three weeks, raising some concerns about rust as the Blue Raiders took to the court at the U of Windsor against the Lions.

There was no rust or any signs of inactivity in the game’s opening eight minutes.

And when the Lions settled in and began to mount their own charge, it made for some interesting basketball viewing.

“There’s always a concern being it’s the first game of the tournament and how the kids are going to react,’’ continued Zownir. “Rustiness was a concern. It was a morning game and you never know with kids, but I thought they did a great job in being focused. We stuck to our game plan and we got the jump on them.”

MacNab head coach Dwayne Washington shouldered the blame in the way his team began the game, refusing to help when penetration into the paint led to easy finishes at the rim.

According to Washington, the strategy was completely different to how his Lions normally defend.

“It was on me,’’ he said. “Overscouting. We’ve been playing help defence all season and my guys were uncomfortable (in the early stages against St. Mike’s).”



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