UBC soars to Dolphin Classic title

By Don Fennell

Published 3:10 PDT, Mon July 17, 2017

The Thunderbirds lived up to their moniker Sunday in Richmond.

Named for the mythical bird thought by some North American indigenous people to bring thunder, UBC’s men’s basketball team soared to an impressive 57-51 victory over defending champion Athelite in the final of the 32nd annual Dolphin Classic. No one was more impressed than UBC head coach Kevin Hanson.

“It was the first time (a lot of these players) have had an opportunity to represent UBC and obviously we’re thrilled with the way they played,” said Hanson, who with a strong recruiting class seems poised to build on an already-decorated coaching career.

Just the third person in Canada West men’s basketball history to win at least 200 games as a head coach, he is already the third-winningest coach in Canada West history.

No slouch as a player in his own right, he was Langara College’s outstanding male athlete and an all-Canadian in 1984. Then after joining the T-Birds the following season, he was twice named the team’s most inspirational player and a national all-star. In his final game, as captain in 1987, he led UBC to victory over seven-time defending national champion Victoria Vikes in the Canada West final.

Hanson’s leadership was apparent again on the weekend. With four freshmen in the Dolphin Classic final, and at times three playing together, he nurtured a very young lineup to impressive heights.

“I played in this tournament probably 25 years ago,” he said. “It’s very special for the basketball community, to see old faces and sort of test yourself. For us at UBC, I saw it as part of our development as a team because I wanted these guys to have to play against grown men and deal with the physicality of the game.”

Hanson was pleased to see how well the young players contributed to every win at the four-on-four tournament. That certainly included Grant Shephard.

Just returning from the excitement of winning the FIBA under-19 World Cup with Canada’s national team, following a 79-60 final-game triumph over Italy July 9 in Egypt, Shephard’s many contributions in his UBC debut were impressive.

“It’s been a whirlwind for him,” noted Hanson, who hesitated about playing Shephard in the Dolphin Classic.

“He was just coming off all the travel and hadn’t done anything for a week. But to come down from that high and be part of our family at UBC, and to start off winning another tournament… For him at just 18 years old to play against grown men and have dunks, I was so pleased. The guy’s had an incredibly successful story as a career so far.”

Shephard, who also competed in the tournament’s always-popular slam dunk contest that was won by Emerson Murray, was in line for the tournament MVP honours. That award was scooped up by his UBC teammate Taylor Browne.

“We developed a real sense of camaraderie by coming here and playing seven games in three days,” Hanson said. “We were up in some games and down in others where we showed an ability to come back. It’s a very exciting way for us to start our season. Our next trip for us is four weeks from now when we head to Costa Rica.”

A team calling itself TOKO outscored University of Fraser Valley 79-52 to earn the Dolphin Classic women’s title. Harlene Sidhu, who won the three-point contest in an extra round over Aman Haran, was the MVP. The five-time B.C. team member played college ball at the University of Nebraska as well as at UBC.

Besides the quality of basketball played throughout the tournament, one of the event organizers said he was encouraged by the number, and calibre, of young players emerging.

“All the young stars coming in is impressive,” said Tony Wong-Hen, who was delighted to see how competitive a Young Guns’ team featuring Richmond players such as Jordan Kojima and Bryce Mason was.

“They lost all their games, but all of them were really close,” noted Wong-Hen, including a game in which Bryce was able to go head-to-head against older brother Elliott.

Wong-Hen attributed at least part of the emerging crop of young talent to a concurrent youth tournament organized by Jessy Dhillon of the Richmond Youth Basketball League. Though only a couple of years old, Wong-Hen said it continues to get better and better. He said plans are afoot to expand as soon as next year.

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