Belmont Bulldogs in good position for boys basketball Islands

Favourable draw, healthy roster positive signs in West Shore team's provincials quest

Despite his team losing the south Island final 81-50 to the home court Bays at Oak Bay, Belmont coach Kevin Brown likes the Bulldogs’ chances of securing a berth into the provincial AAAA boys high school basketball tournament.

The ‘Dogs enter this week’s Island championships at Mount Douglas rated No. 2 from the south behind the Bays, who also happen to be ranked No. 2 in the province among AAAA teams.

The two are on opposite sides of the draw, meaning that if the Bulldogs were to win their first two games – they open Thursday at 8 p.m. against Nanaimo ‘s Dover Bay, then would play the winner between Claremont and Vanier from Courtenay –  they could meet the Bays again in the Island final.

But Brown won’t be caught counting his chickens before they’re hatched. Dover Bay came from behind to beat the Bulldogs at the Belmont mini-tournament over the Christmas break.

“The top two teams go, but the third-place team can challenge the (runner-up) at the No. 2 team’s gym if they haven’t played them in the tournament,” he says.

Oddly enough, Belmont beat Oak Bay in such a challenge game a few years back.

With Vanier beating Cowichan in the north final, the Thunderbirds, a Belmont nemesis this season, wound up on the opposite side of the draw from the Bulldogs.

“I like how our draw looks,” Brown says, noting that if he were “picking my poison,” he’d rather face Vanier than Cowichan in a semifinal game.

“To be honest, no game at the Islands is easy and you never know what can happen. I’m sure Oak Bay is thinking the same thing. Over the years we’ve seen crazy upsets happen.”

Based on last week’s head-to-head matchup, the Bays command plenty of respect from Brown.

“They’re just so strong in every aspect of the game. It’s tough to prep your team against a team like that. We just try to play them straight up and hope for the best,” he says.

While the team’s goal may not be to reach a point to be able to beat the No.2 team in B.C., he adds, a positive sign is that the Bulldogs are in perhaps the best overall health they’ve been in all year, after a season in which not one game has seen all five starters in the lineup, due to either injury or illness.

Shutdown defender Tibias Hayward is expected to be back to full strength for this week’s game, Brown says, which will make a huge difference against teams with potent offences.

And with Lucas Longstaff, a six-foot-one “big man” who usually defends opponents’ top forwards, really stepping up his game of late, Brown says, it gives the team a rock-steady backcourt.

Grade 10 point guard Nathan Ziragosa and Jack Wenstob continue to lead the offence for the Bulldogs, but the collection of role players are also cranking their game up a notch at both ends of the floor.

“It’s been a bumpy, up-and-down season, but the guys have kept working hard,” Brown says. “I really think the guys have turned things around. We’re getting improved performance (in the areas of) rebounding and turnovers and getting a consistent effort.”

The Island tournament gets underway at 2 p.m. Thursday at Mount Doug secondary. The third/fourth place game goes at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by the championship final at 8.

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