There is a different vibe around the Sardis Falcons as the 2013-14 senior boys basketball season gets set to start. Words like provincials and contenders are dropped into any conversation with coach Kyle Graves.
His players say the same things, and when you look them in the eye, you can see that they really believe.
They think their team is destined for greatness.
When the season is done, it will be them sitting atop the heap as BC provincial champions. Never has a Falcons team set out with such lofty expectations.
“Four out of the top 15 teams are in our league, so we’ll know where we’re at by the end of January,” Graves said. “I think talent wise we’re right there as one of the top two or three teams in the province. It’s just going to be confidence and mental toughness that separates the teams.”
After an eighth place finish at last spring’s provincial tournament, Sardis enters this year ranked No. 5.
The only teams ahead of them are the Tamanawis Wildcats (Surrey), W.J.Mouat Hawks (Abbotsford, Yale Lions (Abbotsford)and Walnut Grove Gators (Langley).
Graves returns his Big 3 of Hayden Lejeune, Eric Rogers and Cam Servatius — plus an impressive collection of depth.
Servatius came into last year as an unheralded player with big potential.
His development turned the Falcons from a good team into a great one.
“It was a learning experience, an adjustment coming up to the senior level,” Graves said. “It took a while, but when Cam found his groove he started to knock down some big threes for us.”
Servatius eventually morphed into a two-way force, to the point where Graves referred to him as one of the top-10 defensive players in the province.
His development opened up the playbook for Graves, knowing opposing coaches couldn’t just key on Lejeune and Rogers. They can collapse to the basket and limit the damage done by the Sardis big men, but that strategy leaves Servatius, and now Northey, wide open to rain down the three balls.
He’ll be happy having star-level Servatius in the lineup from start to finish.
“It makes things a lot easier knowing teams can’t double or triple team,” Graves said. “Overall, we’re more a balanced this year for scoring.”
Guard Grayden Northey isn’t a household name… yet.
But the senior may be by season’s end. The sharp shooter will line up at guard, and believes he can do serious damage to opponents who don’t view him as a threat.
Graves refers to him as his three-point specialist.
“It’s fun playing with the other guys because I don’t get much attention at all,” Northey said. “If they leave me to double inside, I stay on the wing and hit open shots. I’m flying under the radar.”
The individual talent in the Sardis starting five is impressive. But all of the top ranked teams have star power, and it’s the depth that will make the difference.
If Graves gets quality minutes from his bench, his starters should have fresh legs in late-game situations.
“We’re always sucking wind, but our depth and conditioning helps us work our way through it, even when we’re tired,” Northey said. “When we line up across from a guy who’s not playing good D because he’s tired, we just attack.”
Experience should give the Falcons another edge.
By birth certificates alone, they’re still a young team. But with one provincial run under their belts, they have a veteran feel to them.
“All of the big moments where we had to win just to get to provincials, then playing in the big stadium (Langley Events Centre), we learned a lot about what it takes,” Northey said.
And where the Falcons might have been just happy to be there in 2013 (though they’d never say it), there’s a sense this season that an invite to the dance won’t be enough.
“I know for myself, this is probably the last time I’ll be able to play competitive basketball,” Northey said. “So I’m dreaming big and working hard.”
Graves’ biggest challenge this year will be managing expectations — keeping his team focused on the ultimate prize while also keeping the game fun.
“It’ll be on me to make sure it’s not about winning every game so much as learning from every game,” he said. “The boys have to enjoy this experience. Even though it’s a four month season, it’ll go by really quick.”
l The Falcons opened their season Tuesday night, with an 83-55 dismantling of the Robert Bateman Timberwolves at the Sardis gym.
Two hundred and fifty fans watched Rogers drain 30 points. Lejeune had 21 and Servatius had nine.
Sardis plays in Yale’s tourney next week.