Two Chilliwack boys hit the hardwood in Penticton last weekend, gunning for gold at the BC Winter Games.
Ben Hagkull and Tanner Scott succeeded, leading their Fraser Valley zone wheelchair basketball team to top spot.
When Ben Hagkull tried wheelchair basketball for the first time at seven years old, he had no idea it would lead to this.
Ten years later.
The BC Winter Games and a gold medal hanging from his neck after a 41-35 win.
It seems like a dream.
If he closes his eyes he can almost float away on the memories of what’s just happened.
But Ben knows it’s not a dream because dreams aren’t hard work.
They just happen.
And this didn’t just happen.
This is because of Monday nights in the Cheam Leisure Centre gym, hoisting up shot after shot after shot after shot.
This is because of hours spent banging wheels with bigger and stronger opponents, learning to love the physicality of the sport. This is because Ben learned that bigger and stronger sometimes means slower.
Slower to move.
Slower to react as he darts past them for a layup.
Ben and Tanner open Friday afternoon with a one-sided win over Vancouver Coastal.
Olson is unstoppable, knocking down 29 points in a 53-20 final.
Ben shows up to practice one night wearing a New York Knicks practice pullover, which maybe makes him wheelchair basketball’s Carmelo Anthony.
Mello with more D sound fair?
But what’s that make Tanner?
Next to Ben, this guy’s a tree.
Eighteen years old, going on 19, he’s got intimidating length and wing-span even when he’s sitting down.
Ben says Tanner uses that height to terrorize undersized opponents around the basket.
Ben feeds him in the post and boom, the ball’s through the hoop.
Tanner’s pulling down rebounds and swatting away shots in an almost Kristaps Porzingis…ish sort of way.
And like New York’s dynamic duo, Ben and Tanner are nearly impossible to stop when they’re dialed in.
Cariboo North East finds that out Friday afternoon as they’re demolished 44-14.
Don’t like the Knicks?
Let’s talk Sedinery.
If Ben knows where Tanner’s going to be and when to get him the ball, the opposite is also true.
Maybe they don’t quite share the intuition of Vancouver Canuck wonder-twins Henrik and Daniel — they give it a 7 or 8 on the Sedinery scale — but Tanner knows setting a pick will free Ben for a mid-range jumper, which Ben loves to shoot.
And Tanner knows, far more often than not the result will be swissshhh!
Ask them what it’s like to play together and they’ll tell you, ‘It feels like fun.’
They don’t play at all in Team BC’s third game, with their coach choosing to rest them for a Sunday morning gold medal game.
They don’t rest their vocal chords, and the entire arena hears them yelling encouragement to their teammates in a 46-18 win.
Where Ben was pretty much born into his wheelchair, Tanner owes this experience to a Grade 8-9 project focused on getting able-bodied athletes into wheelchair sports.
School got him into the chair.
Passion for the sport made him stay and honestly, he jokes that he wasn’t very good playing regular b-ball anyways.
Tanner says he felt awkward for a long time even as he improved rapidly.
He says he’s still on that learning curve, though you wouldn’t know it to watch him play.
Tanner and Ben spend the weekend sleeping on foamies in a high school classroom with a defective motion detector light going off and on, off and on.
They get enough sleep by covering their eyes with t-shirts and are ready to roll Sunday morning in the gold-medal match against Vancouver Island Central Coast.
It’s fair to ask what Tanner and Ben’s opponents were supposed to do.
This is the second time for Ben at the BC Winter Games and we didn’t even mention yet that both of them represented BC at the Canada Winter Games last year.
Both say they learned a lot from those events, mostly how to stay calm and deal with uber-intense games where every little thing matters.
Mix experience with the talent they possess and there must have been some seriously overwhelmed foes in Penticton, left with heads and wheels spinnin’.
Tanner has 12 points and Ben 11 in the final.
The arena announcer recognizes their brilliance.
“Fred (Ben’s nickname) is as cool as the other side of the pillow!” she enthusiastically observes. “Tanner has no hocus, no pocus — just focus!”
The final whistle blows and the boys are victorious.
Seven of them whoop and holler and they keep on whooping and hollering for several hours afterwards.
It feels like a dream but they know it’s not because dreams will end.
Today. Tomorrow. Next week and 30 years from now they’ll have these memories that no one can take away.
Another way they know?
Ask Ben or Tanner and they’ll tell you, this is so much more than either of them dreamed of.