GW Graham’s Matthias Klim (No. 21 blue) and Clay Kurtz (No. 10) reach out for a ball against a Duchess Park player during Saturday’s AAA senior boys championship game at the Langley Events Centre. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

GW Graham’s Matthias Klim (No. 21 blue) and Clay Kurtz (No. 10) reach out for a ball against a Duchess Park player during Saturday’s AAA senior boys championship game at the Langley Events Centre. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

GW Graham finally gets to the top of the basketball mountain

GW Graham opened in 2006 and the school had been searching for a provincial title every year since.

When the GW Graham senior boys basketball team gathered for their first official practice last fall, head coach Jake Mouritzen didn’t say much about winning a provincial championship.

Coaches don’t like to go big picture with their messaging.

Instead, he laid out a challenge for his troops, telling them to ‘Get one per cent better every day.’

Grade 12 guard Cairo Almarez remembers those early days, looking at his teammates and wondering.

Did they have what it takes to do what no GW Graham basketball team had ever done before?

“Coach talked about the day-to-day thing, but all of the players, we talked about the one goal,” Almaraz said.

Mouritzen had built the Grizzlies into a basketball powerhouse and had taken some very talented teams to provincials. But even with past stars like Geevon Janday and Gabe Mannes, Ryan Trottier and Jon Steele – they’d fallen short of the ultimate goal.

Almarez looked up at the walls of the GW Graham gymnasium and knew there were no provincial b-ball championship banners.

What did this current group have that would make them any different?

Would they be another ‘really good’ Grizzlies team that could hang with the top dogs, but never be the best?

Almarez said the team’s ‘We believe’ moment came early in the season, at their home tournament in mid-December.

The Grizz faced the Vernon Panthers in the final, grinding out a 67-64 win.

“Before that game we were thinking, ‘Can we beat these guys? They’re really good and we’ll have to do this, this and that to beat them,’” Almarez recalled. “But after we won that game it was like, ‘We can beat anybody.’

From that moment on, Almarez said the team played with swagger.

The Twin Towers, Matthias and Zach Klim, dominated in the paint.

No foe could win the rebounding battle with GWG’s near-seven footers doing their thing.

Jude Hall drove the ball fearlessly down the wings while Almarez and Clay Kurtz bombed away with mid-range jumpers and three point shots.

The Grizzlies had depth and versatility for days behind their starting five.

They could win playing any style and spent the entire season as one of the top-ranked teams in B.C.

Mouritzen purposely scheduled a Murderer’s Row of foes, taking his team to as many elite tournaments as he could find.

The coach believed facing top competition in January was the best way to prepare for the pressure cooker of provincials.

His crew learned tough lessons along the way.

At the Chancellor Tournament in early January they faced the Duchess Park Condors and lost 108-88.

“We played awful defence and we got smacked,” Kurtz said with a grimace. “I think that took a little bit of our swagger away.

“We were ranked No. 1 in the province after we beat Vernon, but shortly after that loss to Duchess Park we were down to No. 5.”

Coaches will privately admit that such things can be beneficial. A team needs to be humbled, and humbled they were.

The Grizzlies refocused in late January and steamrolled competition in the Fraser Valley East league. They went 8-0 with an eye-popping +202 points differential, and 10 days after the regular season ended, they topped Abbotsford’s MEI Eagles for the Eastern Valley Athletic Association Championship.

Two key regular season moments, the win over Vernon and the loss to Duchess Park, proved hugely important when GWG rolled into the Langley Events Centre for provincials.

After making quick work of the Ladysmith 49ers in last Thursday’s opener, and swatting aside the Magee Lions in a quarter-final, the Grizzlies found Vernon waiting for them.

This was a foe they knew they could beat, if they played their best.

“We felt like if we could get past the Panthers, we’d be on a high and just keep going against Duchess Park,” Kurtz said.

GWG beat Vernon by one point, 50-49.

The Grizzlies went into the final against Duchess Park feeling confident, but the Condors punched them in the face early, bringing back memories of that January defeat.

Duchess Park hit shots.

GW Graham didn’t.

The Grizzlies were turning the ball over and not playing great defence against the one-two punch of Jackson Kuc and Caleb Lyons.

Duchess Park led by five points in the final minute of the first quarter.

Then something clicked.

GWG got the score to 18-16 as the first quarter ended, then produced an epic second quarter where they out-scored the Condors 18-9.

“We just started finding our groove and doing what we usually do, which is pushing the ball up-court,” Kurtz said. “Once we got in the half-court offence, it was get the ball to the Klims and let them go to work.”

At halftime, Mouritzen praised his team’s defence and urged them to stick to the game-plan.

The Grizzlies came out of the break and out-scored Duchess Park 24-15 in the third quarter.

Leading 58-42 as the fourth quarter began, more eyes started looking up to the scoreboard, watching the seconds tick away.

READ MORE: Twin towers power GW Graham basketball

READ MORE: GW Graham Grizzlies get past Magee Lions at provincials

Kurtz, the MVP of the final (and the entire tournament) with 24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals, said he knew it was over when Duchess Park started fouling Grizzlies in the final minute.

“It finally started to sink in that we might have it,” he said.

Almarez figured it was in the bag a bit sooner.

“I started thinking about it when we had a 20 point lead (early in the fourth quarter),” he said. “My body went into shock, almost, when I started thinking, ‘We could actually do this.’

“And then, like Clay said, when it was 15 seconds left it was like, ‘Woah.’”

GWG ended up winning 79-67, sparking an epic celebration. The moments after the final whistle are moments both teenagers will remember together.

Because it took 14 years for a GWG team to experience this moment.

Because Mouritzen’s been there the entire time, trying so hard to get his team to the top of the mountain.

These celebrations are always memorable, but there was an extra level of emotion with this one.

“Seeing your friends and family, you’re overcome with emotion and you feel like everyone on that court is family,” Kurtz said. “That’s what it’s all about, and you can’t really describe the feeling.

“It’s just crazy.”

Most of the players enjoyed watching Mouritzen celebrate more than anything.

“He gets up at like, 5 a.m. every day just to open up the gym for little Grade 7s who are just trying to get better,” Almarez. “He sets schedules and gets us to games and tournaments and it takes a lot of his time.

“He works so hard and does so much for this program, but he also loves what he’s doing and it finally paid off.”

In the final game of his high school basketball career, Almarez couldn’t have scripted a better way to say goodbye.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

B.C. High School Basketball

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Cairo Almarez (No. 1 in blue) said he wouldn’t have it any other way in the final game of his high school basketball career. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

Cairo Almarez (No. 1 in blue) said he wouldn’t have it any other way in the final game of his high school basketball career. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

Just Posted

Sam Darkoh in his music video ‘Ruby Fever’ which was shot in Yarrow. (Sterling Gold Production)
VIDEO: Yarrow, Chilliwack backdrop for professionally shot music video of Aldergrove rapper

Lots of hospitality, kind people while filming Ruby Fever, says hip-hop artist Sam Darkoh

Brian VanGarderen is one of four candidates running in the Chilliwack School Board byelection on Feb. 13, 2021. (Submitted photo)
VIDEO: Chilliwack byelection candidate would like to see district-wide connections

Brian Vangarderen hopes Chilliwack school board will focus on policy making and positive connections

Chilliwack is expected to be among the province’s hottest real estate markets in 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Chilliwack housing market projected to be among B.C.’s hottest in 2021

B.C. Real Estate Association projects Chilliwack and District to grow by 17.1 per cent

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon. (Submitted)
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon funding equity and social change scholarships

One of the scholarships is open to any graduating student in the Chilliwack-Kent electoral district

Eva Pucci Couture in this file shot from May 29, 2019, when she came to Chilliwack asking for the public’s help in locating her missing son, Kristofer Shawn Couture. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Missing man’s mom still hopeful, 2 years after his car was found abandoned at Chilliwack trail

‘I wish someone would come forward with insight into your whereabouts,’ pleads mom of missing man

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Langley activist Dorscie Paterson celebrated her 108th birthday on Monday, Jan. 25 at the Cedar Hill long term care facility. Because of the pandemic, she remained inside, able to see, but not shake hands with visitors. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Celebrating a 108th birthday without physical contact

Pandemic required Langley woman to stay behind a window

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19:

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
2 years after his riderless horse was found, police believe Merritt cowboy was killed

Two years after he went missing, Ben Tyner’s family makes video plea for information

Most Read