Junior Basketball Captures First Championship of Brand-New Provincial Tournament
The Jr. Blue Raiders Basketball Team is the newest provincial championship team at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) after an incredible effort in the inaugural Ontario High School Basketball Championship (OHSBC) tournament.
Following a tough second place finish in the Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association (CISAA) finals, the team regrouped and refocused on the newly established Ontario championship.
“The boys played four outstanding games of team basketball which culminated in a tournament championship,” says Emile John ’87, vice principal and one of the team’s coaches. “They showed incredible resolve, determination, and game plan execution in the finals against Bishop Reding who had beaten them earlier in the tournament on a buzzer-beater."
The OHSBC was created in 2022 to take the place of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships, which were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“This is the greatest group of boys that I have ever coached. They were incredibly talented, but what made them special was their character,” says Nicholas Maiese, English teacher and head coach of the Jr. Blue Raiders. “They were a fun group of kids who just wanted to work hard and get better every day.”
The tournament took place over three days from March 31 to April 2. The Jr. Blue Raiders Basketball Team opened the tournament with a strong start and 30-point win over St. Martin Secondary School. In their second game, they lost 71-70 against Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School just as the buzzer went off. The team bounced back in their third game against Frontenac Secondary School, earning themselves a place in the finals and a rematch with Bishop Reding. In the championship game, the Jr. Blue Raiders found their stride with a convincing 79-54 victory.
“The thing that made our team so successful was our attitude of relentless determination and our love for the game,” says Phoenyx Wyse, Grade 9 student and member of the Jr. Blue Raiders.
“It felt great because we unfortunately lost in the CISAA finals a couple of weeks before, so this was a second chance at winning,” says Tobias Sealy, Grade 9.
“I think our friendship and bond on and off the court was a huge contributor to our success as a team,” says Oscar Howe, Grade 10. “Because of our brotherhood and trust in each other, we thrived and flourished both individually and as a team which ultimately led to our championship.”
Howe also capped off the weekend with an individual honour, being named tournament MVP.
“It means a huge amount to me on being named MVP as it will be a significant milestone in my St. Mike’s basketball career,” he says. “Just to be recognized for my talent is a great feeling as it just goes to show that my hard work is starting to pay off. The process of leading my team through this tournament was not an individual effort as my co-captains, Phoenyx Wyse and Yianni Mikrogianakis, made huge impacts on the trajectory of this team this year.”
Throughout the season, Maiese emphasized team building and leadership with numerous in-class sessions where they explored the concepts of team, identity, leadership, and commitment. The sessions brought the team together and enhanced the team’s culture during a challenging year.
“This team was special because so many players contributed significantly,” says Maiese. “Yes, we had two clear leaders, but on any given day, many others stepped into starring roles. Mr. John introduced the idea that some days it would be player A, some days player B, but it would always be us. And that’s how we played. Someone always stepped to support our two stars.”
The team’s championship win comes after co-horted tryouts, athletic shut-downs for exams, and a provincial shut-down all in six months of playing. COVID-19 was also a major challenge this year with several players forced to isolate during the season and their head coach sidelined for the final tournament.
“I tested positive for COVID the Wednesday before the tournament, which meant that I couldn’t go,” says Maiese. “Mr. John and Dr. Daniel Lumsden ’96 had to take the lead roles and steer the ship. It was a surreal experience for me coaching from home, watching the livestream, and texting or calling in my input.”
Despite the uncertainties they faced, the Jr. Blue Raiders’ team-first approach and ability to embrace adversity was the foundation of their success.
“I wouldn’t credit our success to one individual, I would credit it to the group of individuals from every single boy on the team, to the coaches, to Mr. Alex Frescura ’92 and the other athletic coordinators and helpers, to every single kid and teacher in the school that followed our journey and supported us through our highs and lows,” says Howe.
Members of the Jr. Blue Raiders shared their reflections on what competing in the tournament taught them.
“I learned to be more confident in my abilities, whether it is being a playmaker, finishing my layups, shooting the three, or being a lockdown defender,” says Sealy. “Also, my leadership towards my teammates, bringing them up after a good or bad play, telling them what the best thing for a good result is.”
“I learned that we can’t get too high on our wins or too low on our losses,” says Howe. “Being composed and calm when playing is the biggest success and asset of any team and individually as our minds are our most important tool in any form of sports.”
The team will celebrate their successful season at the end of April with pizza, awards, and player tributes. While the makeup of the Jr. Blue Raiders will change dramatically next year with nine players moving to the senior team, Maiese is confident he will have a solid core of returning players and will be well-positioned for another successful year.
“All told, we practiced for six months to play 10 games,” says Maiese. “But the boys were great. No attitudes. They just came to work every day. They came to work and to get better. They were a joy to be around.”