Getting instructions to players in the heat of a basketball game is a tricky proposition for any coach at the best of times, but what if those key words need to be repeated in four different languages?
That's the task faced by Johnson Chiu, head coach of North Vancouver's Bodwell Bruins senior boys team. Bodwell is a private boarding school that caters to international students. This season their basketball team has no Canadian-born players on it, instead boasting a roster that includes players from such far-flung countries as Turkey, Japan, Nigeria, and China.
When Chiu has a vital message that needs to sink in, he uses student translators so that there are no mistakes.
"Sometimes when I need to say something I know that a kid won't understand I'll get a manager to say it in their first language," he said, adding that calling out plays and giving tips in multiple languages has had some unique benefits for the players. "Some of our Turkish kids now understand Mandarin or Cantonese just because we yell it across the court and they pick it up. It's a really unique team in that sense."
The messages sure seem to be sinking in this year as the Bruins just won the Howe Sound AAA title for the first time in school history. Bodwell has claimed several titles at the lower "A" tier but this was their first time playing in the AAA league for larger schools and they capped off an undefeated regular season with a thrilling, back-and-forth 60-57 win over the Sutherland Sabres Wednesday to claim the banner.
Star Grade 12 wing player Edward Ahanmisi made a big step-back three pointer with about two minutes to play to give the Bruins a lead that they never relinquished.
"It's a relief," Chiu said of claiming the Howe Sound title. "Because we were undefeated so I think that's what the expectations were for us."
Ahanmisi put up a monster stat line in the game, scoring 29 points with 10 rebounds, eight steals and two assists. Forward Arda Coban racked up 15 points with eight rebounds while point guard Takeshi Iso did a bit of everything with seven points, five assists, five steals and two rebounds.
The Sabres were led by Jacob Chalifoux who put up huge numbers in defeat, collecting a triple-double with 33 points, 18 rebounds and 12 blocks.
"Bodwell beat us four out of four times this year, so they are deserving champions," said Sutherland head coach Brad Thornhill. "We played them tight for three of those games but we just didn't quite get enough quality possessions late in those games, couldn't hit that one big shot or handle their defensive pressure enough that would have put us over the hump."
After receiving their hardware the Bodwell squad was joined on the floor by more than 50 fellow students who bussed over to Windsor secondary for the game.
"It's big," Chiu said of what the win means to the school. "We're one of those schools that needs moments like this because we're an international school. It's kind of hard to keep traditions going and such, but to have the boys do well consistently over the years is something that we can latch on to as a school community."
Bodwell's ever-shifting student base sometimes makes fielding a basketball team a tough go, said Chiu, who has been coaching at the school for more than a decade.
"We more or less have a new team every year," he said. "We've got a few months to bring everybody together and we just work really hard at it. ... At first it's frustrating. But it's really good now because you get better as a coach, you get better as a communicator. You start to listen, both verbally and non-verbally. It's a challenge but it's a great challenge."
The players not only come from different backgrounds off the court but on the court as well, bringing wildly different styles to the team.
"Our point guard (Iso), because he's Japanese, is a little bit more controlled," said Chiu. "He's great in that way - he has a very good understanding of what he needs to do and he'll stick to it. Whereas Eddy, because he's from Nigeria ... he's a lot more street, in the sense that he depends a lot more on his athleticism. And then we have the Turkish boys who are very well schooled in fundamentals and mechanics and basics so they're good that way. It makes for an interesting group of boys to coach because they have a different skill set, every single one of them. They're all specialists in some areas. It's very different, very unique."
Ahanmisi is a co-captain and team leader who has his sights set on playing college ball in the United States.
"He's a great on-ball, off-ball defender. Super athletic, really fast," said Chiu. "He doesn't score volumes but he makes big baskets. He's kind of like the heart and soul of the team. He gets them going. He's very confident. Some say he's overconfident, I just think he's very confident."
Iso is the other co-captain. Joining the captains as a team leader is Grade 12 guard Jason Wu.
"He, in my opinion, is probably the most annoying player on the North Shore to play against," Chiu said of Wu. "He just wants to play defence. Most teams don't like that. ... He gets up on people, he gets underneath people - he does a lot of dumb things but he's definitely a kid you want on your side."
The Bruins will now head to the provincial championships running March 9-12 at Langley Events Centre. Bodwell may be new to the AAA level but that doesn't mean they're just happy to be here.
"Our goal would be top four. Some people would scoff at that," said Chiu, whose Bruins are currently outside the top-10 in the province but listed as honourable mentions. "I think we'll surprise some people."
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The AA Howe Sound Championships also wrapped up Wednesday with powerhouse Collingwood completing an undefeated season on the North Shore with a dominant 96-60 win over St. Thomas Aquinas.
"We had very good ball movement in our sets, and we put together a full 40 minutes," said Cavaliers assistant coach Siamak Salehi. Collingwood was led by back-to-back Howe Sound AA championship MVP Jaden Narwal who posted 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the win. Three more Cavaliers racked up double-doubles with Carter Armstrong recording 24 points and 10 rebounds; Dillon Cooper 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks; and Brendan Artley 12 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
STA was led by the duo of Michael Kelly and Andrew Beronio who picked up 15 points apiece.
"Collingwood showed why they are going to be one of the strong favourites to win the AA B.C. title this year," said STA head coach Jim Kelly.
The Fighting Saints, however, will have a shot at provincial glory as well, heading to the AA championships as a wild card team. Collingwood is currently No. 3 in the provincial AA rankings while STA is right behind at No. 5. The Saints clinched their berth Tuesday with a thrilling 92-89 win over Seycove led by 25 points from Kelly and a game-winning three-pointer from Chad Steverding with two seconds left in the game.
The Howe Sound AAAA championships wrapped up Friday night after North Shore News press deadline. Heavy favourites West Vancouver were pushed to a final game in the double-knockout tournament after third-place Handsworth scored a 62-48 upset on Thursday.