THE North Shore senior boys basketball landscape, long dominated by Royals and Pipers with Eagles attacking from the sky from time to time, has become much more Spartan these days.
Not lower case spartan as in barren, but rather upper case Spartan as in a hard charging warrior from West Vancouver. The Sentinel Spartans, this season's surprise team, is undefeated on the North Shore and in first place following a one-point win over the Handsworth Royals Tuesday.
The game came down to the final possession with Sentinel centre Austin Penrose scoring the winning basket with 10 seconds left to earn the Spartans a 62-61 upset on Handsworth's home court.
"Nothing fancy, just a strong post move," Sentinel head coach Klaus Heck said about Penrose's game-winning shot. The big Grade 11 finished the game with a monster stat line, scoring 24 points while grabbing 23 rebounds.
The Spartans won despite missing three of their top six players, including starting power forward and team captain Charlie Morison who separated his shoulder during a recent tournament.
Despite Sentinel's win, Heck said the Royals, who came into the game tied for first place on the North Shore and ranked No. 9 in the province, are still the team to beat in the chase for the Howe Sound title.
"I think they're the favourites on the North Shore - I had them as the favourites before the game, I still have them as the favourites," said Heck. "I think they're just a very solid team, they're very well coached by Blair Shier. On this particular day our kids were up for the game, they played very well, they followed our game plan to a T. On this day we got the good result. In no way, shape or form am I going to say we're the better team long term but on that day we got a win because our guys just played really well."
The Spartans focused on slowing the game down and limiting the chances for Handsworth's dynamic guard combination of Adam Karmali and Luka Petkovic. Karmali led the Royals with 22 points while Petkovic, an explosive scorer, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with 14.
"We did not want to get into a shootout with their guards," said Heck. "Any time you can hold a player like (Petkovic) to 14 points, we've done a good job that particular day."
Heck may say that Handsworth is still the team to beat but it is the Spartans who are now 4-0 in North Shore league play. It's quite the reversal over recent history - last season Sentinel did not have a Grade 12 player on their roster and finished 2-6 in league play. It's also quite the reversal over distant history as well - according to Heck, the Spartans have only won the North Shore AAA title twice, way back in 1988 and '89. To find their other North Shore title you have to go all the way back to 1968, before there were A, AA and AAA classifications.
This team, however, is a special one for Heck. The longtime coach and administrator retired in 2007 but stayed on to work at Sentinel's hockey academy and also took on a coaching job with the Grade 8 boys' basketball team. He's coached that same group of kids ever since and they are now in Grade 11 and 12, starring for the re-energized Sentinel senior team.
"After the Grade 9 year I got indicators from kids and parents that they wanted to get serious about it," said Heck, who made a commitment to stick with the team through Grade 12.
"I've never done that before. It can be a little tough because sometimes you can get tired of the same kids and those same kids can get tired of you after five years," he said with a laugh. "They're a really good bunch of kids. . . . For the most part (they) have bought into it. They're enjoying the game and we'll see where it all goes."