KAMLOOPS — The South Kam Titans are in the same spot they were in a year ago, the No. 2 team in the province going into the AAA basketball championships, eager to finish a job they were so close to accomplishing last spring, losing 69-63 to Rick Hanson in the final.
"Every drill our team did, myself included, we just thought about the Hurricanes beating us and all the headlines about them winning. That could've been us. Everything just pushed us as a team," said Grade 12 forward Nick Sarai.
But the Titans will face a unique hurdle in this year's championship drive. Head coach Tim Unaegbu, who's been with this group for four years, won't be on the bench. He won't even be allowed to step foot into the Langley Events Centre.
Unaegbu is serving a 10-game suspension handed down by the Okanagan Valley School Athletic Association after he received two technical fouls in a game earlier this season. But he's not worried about the team's playing slipping without him.
"I've been with the guys for four years and they've been going to provincials for four years in a row, so these guys know exactly what to expect," said Unaegbu, a former basketball player at TRU. "If I wasn't there, my assistant Bryce McMillan or Mike Flaco Zayas, if all three of us weren't there this team could still run itself because they have the fear of Tim in them over the last four years. So they know what to expect through anything, so I'm very confident in my group of guys."
Unaegbu said he received the two technical fouls in an exhibition tournament in Kelowna earlier this season, and as a repeat offender the Okanagan Valley School Athletic Association decided to slap him with 10 games, which carry all the way through the provincial tournament.
"It's been similar in nature and the idea is that the graduated increase in suspensions would send message to Tim that it's time to change that behaviour, but it seems to have not been the case," said Byron Green, the President of the Okanagan Valley School Athletic Association.
BC High School Basketball President Paul Eberhardt noted the provincial organization is simply upholding the Okanagan's decision to suspend Unaegbu, a suspension that has been appealed and upheld.
But the Titans, even without Unaegbu, feel they have the experience and depth outside of Sarai and Reid Jansen to win it this time.
"We've got that 6'10" giant [Ripley Martin] on our team there, so I think he's going to definitely step up his game," said Jansen. "We have our shooter Evan Jumaga, he's going to hit a couple shots for us, play good defense, and our bench players are solid."
The players want to follow in the footsteps of Titans girls who won the AA title over the weekend.
"It would just be amazing and memorable because we'd be the only boys team in a long, long time to win, and especially because the senior girls won. Just to have two senior teams win it in the one year would be just remarkable," said Sarai. "Just for our coach especially, not getting the chance to come with us, and he's been with us for years, so winning it wouldn't be just for this team but for him, too."
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