Deep field for storied tourney

The host Kelowna Owls look to defend title at Western Canada Basketball Tournament beginning Thursday

Seniors Mason Bourcier and Owen Keyes (background) will lead the Kelowna Owls into the Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament beginning Thursday at KSS.

For the Kelowna Owls, there are two sides to the coin in hosting the 2017 Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament.

The support and comfort of playing at home is tempered by the pressure and expectations of being the two-time defending champs.

Regardless of the outcome, Owls’ head coach Harry Parmar said it all adds up to three days of hype and excitement his players and the KSS student body are sure to embrace.

“It’s an exciting week, the student body gets ramped up and the school is just electric,” said Parmar, now in his 10th season as Owls’ coach. “It’s great for our kids (players), there’s a lot of interest in this event and they get to be part of it.

“It’s just a matter of them controlling that excitement and emotion a bit and just going out, playing the games and really enjoying it.”

The Owls, who won the event in both 2015 and 2016, will open play Thursday at 7 p.m. against the South Kamloops Titans, the second-ranked AAA team in B.C.

In what is arguably one of the strongest fields in recent memory, the draw also features the top three ranked 4A teams in B.C.—Walnut Grove, KSS and Oak Bay.

Manitoba’s No. 1 team, the Oak Park Raiders, will be joined by the Regina Campbell Tartans, the top-ranked team from Saskatchewan, and the Raymond Comets, the No. 2 team from Alberta.

At the top of the Owls’ wish-list is a meeting with Walnut Grove in the final and a chance for some payback. The No. 1-ranked Gators have beaten KSS in all three meetings between the schools this season.

Still, with the quality of teams on this year’s draw, Parmar said there’s no guarantee that either KSS or Walnut Grove will be in Saturday’s championship game.

“It’s just loaded,” Parmar said of this year’s roster of competing teams. “It would be nice for us to see (Walnut Grove) but you can’t take anything for granted.

“We don’t know exactly how good some of those other teams are, but you have to assume by their rankings that they’re really good. Anything can happen and that’s what makes it a great tournament.”

As is the case every year, the Western Canada tournament marks the beginning of the home stretch and a springboard for the Owls, who will be looking to defend their B.C. 4A boys provincial title in March.

“The goal is to get better every possession, progress throughout the week and be a better team when it’s over,” he said. “Hopefully it will prepare us well for what’s to come.”

Full tournament passes are $10 for students, $20 for adults and $75 for courtside seats.

Here’s a look at the opening day of action:

Thursday, Feb. 2

1:45 p.m.—Regina Campbell Collegiate vs Walnut Grove

3:30 p.m.—Oak Park Raiders vs Oak Bay Oaks

5:15 p.m.—Raymond Comets vs Semiamhoo Totems

7:30 p.m.—South Kamloops vs Kelowna Owls

Championship game—Saturday, Feb. 4 @ 7 p.m.