Head coach Liam Sullivan can remember exactly when it was that it sunk in that Brentwood College School’s junior boys basketball team would be playing for the provincial championship.
After his team defeated consensus pre-tournament favourite Handsworth in the semifinals, Sullivan was watching the other semi when it hit him.
“Tomorrow night, we’re playing for the provincial championship,” he recalled thinking. “We beat the No. 1 seed, so we can go in and win the next game, too.”
That’s exactly what Brentwood did. On March 1, Brentwood, the only squad representing a AA school in the 32-team junior boys championship defeated AAAA Walnut Grove 51-43 to claim the B.C. banner.
Essentially the host of the tournament — Walnut Grove is just a few minutes away from the Langley Events Centre, where all the games were played — the Gators had the support of most of the crowd of 1,100. Brentwood, however, took the lead early on and held it for most of the game.
At the start of the third quarter, they were up by 11 points, but Walnut Grove hit three straight threes to cut the lead to two.
With the score still close, Brentwood went a whole offensive possession without a chance to score until post player Mide Olatunbosun, who hadn’t hit a three all season, sank one from outside the arc to put his team up by four, and that shot stood up as the game-winner.
“He’d had an amazing tournament, but he hadn’t played well that game,” Sullivan said of Olatunbosun. “That was his moment to help the team.”
With the Gators forced to foul, Brendan Sullivan and Bruno Chan were perfect on free throws down the stretch, and Brentwood ended up prevailing 51-43.
Brentwood was loaded with gifted players, but in coach Sullivan’s view, that wasn’t why they won.
“I don’t think we were the most talented team there, but I think we were able to handle the adversity the best,” he said.
The team won 28 of 29 games over the year and won all five tournaments they entered. They were the only Island team besides Oak Bay to be ranked in the top 10 at any point in the season, peaking at seventh in the last poll before the tournament.
On their way to the B.C. tournament, Brentwood won the Island championship, beating out some highly touted teams, and earned the No. 4 seed at provincials.
That set up a tough opening-round game against Lord Tweedsmuir. An honourable mention in the top 10, Tweedsmuir lost in the second round of the Fraser Valley playoffs and ended up reaching provincials as a wild-card and getting a lower seed than they maybe merited. Down 13 at halftime, Brentwood battled back to prevail 74-71.
“It took everything we had to win,” Sullivan recalled.
In the second round, Brentwood beat Magee Secondary 58-47.
“It was a competitive game, but we were pretty much in control overall,” Sullivan said.
Brentwood advanced to the quarterfinals where they faced rival private school St. George’s, who Brentwood had beaten by 24 points at the Independent Schools Association tournament.
“I was confident we could beat them,” Sullivan said. “But I knew they would be better than the first time we played them.”
The score was close at halftime, but Brentwood took over in the second half and won 76-64.
At that point, Brentwood was within a win of playing for the title, with only highly regarded Handsworth in their way.
“It’s five games, and you don’t look ahead; you just play the team in front of you,” Sullivan said. “But after we won that game [against St. George’s], all of a sudden we were in the top four and on a collision course with the No. 1 team in the tournament.”
Sullivan and his players knew that a win over Handsworth would be seen as a major upset.
“Probably very few people in the tournament would have given us a chance to win that game, and rightfully so,” he said.
Brentwood was down by 10 points after the first quarter, but managed to cut the deficit to three points by halftime. Early in the third quarter, however, they ended up down by 11.
“Junior boys basketball is only eight-minute quarters,” Sullivan noted. “So you don’t have a lot of time to make up a gap like that.”
Brentwood made six or seven big plays in a row, and ended up ahead 38-37 with a quarter left.
“I think that’s when Handsworth realized it would be an absolute dogfight,” Sullivan said.
In the late going, Brendan Sullivan put Brentwood up by six with a big three-pointer, and the team held on after that to win 58-51, securing a spot in the final.
Sullivan was named the MVP of the provincial tournament, and Chan was a first-team all-star — the same honours they earned at the Island championships. Chan was also named the outstanding defensive player at provincials.
Two more players could have been in the running for individual honour as well, Liam Sullivan noted: Casper Poelen was Brentwood’s player of the game in both the final and semifinal, and Olatunbosun was an “important fixture” in terms of scoring.
“We could not have done it without contributions from everyone on the team,” coach Sullivan said.