West Can title beckons for host Owls
It's been 30 years since the home team celebrated its first and only championship at the Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament.
There may be no collection of talent better equipped to end the three-decade dry spell than the 2012 edition of the Kelowna Owls.
Anchored by blue chip seniors Braxston Bunce and Mitch Goodwin—and aided by a solid supporting cast—KSS heads into this week's 39th annual tourney as the No. 1-ranked AAA team in the province. The Owls are 18-3 overall and haven't lost to a B.C. opponent in nearly two months.
Still, as players and coaches will tell you, the WCBT is a whole new ball game, with the expectations, electricity and atmosphere all reaching a season-high for the host Owls.
"This is what every player here dreams about from Grade 2 or 3 on, playing in this tournament," said Goodwin, who is averaging 24.6 points per game against strong competition this season. "The fans are loud and they support you, and the quality of the basketball is really good. It's not the biggest thing for us in the season, but it's right up there…there's no other tournament like it."
Last year, the Owls had the tournament title squarely in their cross-hairs, only to let it slip away in the second half of the championship game against R.C. Palmer.
Goodwin, the multi-talented 6-foot-2 point guard, was on the floor that night and would like to help his Owls make amends for 2011's disappointment.
"For the four of us that played on the team last year, we understand what went wrong and we want to fix that," said Goodwin, who was joined by Bunce, Austin Axenty and Nevin Knezevic on last year's Owls' roster. "There's definitely pressure on us to win, but at the same time we let everyone know we're out there playing a game we love. We need to have fun doing it, too, and that's part of what this tournament is about."
And as much as the Owls would love to hoist the tournament trophy for the student body for the first time since 1982, Goodwin and Bunce agree there is a grander goal in mind for the 2012 version of the KSS squad.
For Bunce, the 6-foot-11 post, the Western Canada is an important step along the road to the ultimate prize—the B.C. senior AAA championship in March.
"The Western Canada, I think is something the fans are expecting us to win…it's the one big one they get to watch, so that's understandable," said Bunce. "Of course it would be nice to win, but we know it's not the end of the world. We still have a month left in the season after this tournament to keep improving. We know what we're capable of so that's what matters. This is an important step but not what we're playing for in the end."
As for the level of competition, Bunce said the WCBT will serve as an ideal tune-up for the intensity his team will face at provincials.
"This is probably one of the strongest pools of teams there's been in a while," said Bunce.
"Right now our focus is just getting through the first game. The team we're playing from Alberta is going to be tough. In this tournament, you try not to look too far ahead because they're all good teams."
From head coach Harry Parmar's perspective, the hype surrounding the WCBT may be second to none in the Owls' season, but the game inside the lines remains the same.
"Our goal every time we play is to win, and this tournament is no different," said Parmar. "We know the energy and the spectators can be a little overwhelming for our young players, so it's going to be important for our seniors to show their leadership and help the younger guys with those nerves.
"I prefer to worry about what we're doing on the floor," added Parmar, "and that's playing good, sound defense, and doing the little things right."
The Owls open the WCBT Thursday at 8:15 p.m. against the St. Francis Browns from Calgary.
The championship final will be played Saturday at 7:45 p.m.
The 1982 Owls' championship team will be honoured on Friday night, prior to the last game of the day.