The emotion of the moment overcomes Jake Mouritzen as he embraces wife Sarah after Saturday night’s provincial championship win. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

GW Graham coach Jake Mouritzen finally gets to savour time at the top

After 14 years, he despaired that his team might never win a title. Saturday night, they did.

GW Graham basketball boss Jake Mouritzen didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. Sunday morning, hours after his senior boys beat Duchess Park for the provincial championship.

He was up two hours later, heading to the airport to catch a flight for Phoenix.

Later Sunday morning, he texted your friendly neighborhood sports writer pics from a Phoenix Suns/Milwaukee Bucks b-ball game at the Talking Stick Arena.

“Best weekend ever?” the writer asked.

“EVER!” Mouritzen replied.

It took 14 years for the coach to get a B.C. banner for the GWG gymnasium, and when he got back to school Wednesday morning he was still trying to put into words how it feels.

“Jake Mouritzen has been guiding the GW Graham senior basketball team since 2006 and finally has his first provincial championship banner. (Paul Yates/ Vancouver Sports Pictures)”

“It’s surreal,” he said. “I’ve spent lots of time thinking about the last three minutes of that game.”

That game, Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre, against the favoured Duchess Park Condors.

“We were up 18 (points, in the fourth quarter), then they went on a run where they closed to 10 and I was like, ‘No. This can’t happen,’” Mouritzen recalled. “But then we were able to get a couple stops and make a couple of easy layups.

“It was the last 40 seconds where I thought, ‘I don’t think they can score 10 points in 40 seconds.’”

And that’s when it hit him.

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In charge of GW Graham basketball and head coach of the senior boys since the school opened in 2006, Mouritzen built a program that was always in the championship mix, but never a champion.

“Prior to this year, we were there every year and there was always someone else in our way,” he said. “But it was the never the same someone else. It was St. Thomas More one year. It was Mission another. Brentwood College two years and last year it was Duchess Park.”

Finally, they were the team the other teams couldn’t get past.

“I have a really hard time putting it into words because this has been the goal since day one,” he said as he proudly pulled up a picture of the championship banner on his phone. “Any time you have big goals, you’re not sure whether you’re going to be able to reach them.

“I’ve done a lot of losing as an athlete and a coach and never won the big game, so this is cool.

“It should keep me going for another 20 years.”

Mouritzen has sacrificed for the GWG program, investing endless time and energy into his players. He’s known for waking up super early to get to school and open the gym, and nobody puts more work into game prep.

To a man, his players would run through a wall for the guy, and this year, he said there was something different.

Like the stars were aligning.

“Little things were happening all the time during the season that were different than the past,” he said. “When the tournament draw came out, everyone said, ‘Woah. You must like your draw,’ and that was another different thing because usually we’re like, ‘Ooof. Tough draw.’

“I can’t explain it, but everything just came together.”

Jude Hall, a starting forward, exemplified the team’s attitude. All season long he told Mouritzen not to worry. They were going to win.

When they took the Eastern Fraser Valley Athletic Association title, Hall wouldn’t touch the trophy.

“There’s a better trophy that we’re going to win,” he said.

On the court after the provincial final, Hall found his coach and said, ‘I told you so.’

“Jude could hardly walk Saturday morning and any other kid wouldn’t have played in the final,” Mouritzen said. “He came out because he could hardly run, and forced me to put him back in.

“Cairo (Almarez) has been amazing from day one, Clay (Kurtz) took over in that game and then there’s the Klims (Matthias and Zach).

“Having two six-foot-10 post players, I might not have that again in my coaching career.”

Mouritzen has delivered many ‘we lost’ speeches, one time spending three hours consoling a team after a semi-final loss in Kamloops.

Ending the season with tears of joy instead of tears of sadness was great.

“I get into the locker room and Cairo is there, with the net around his neck, saying ‘We won a blue banner! We won a blue banner,’” Mouritzen said. “I’ll tell you, giving a speech after winning is waaaay better than giving a speech after losing.

“The world is crazy, with so many bad things happening right now, but for us, this one moment was perfect.”


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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