Out on Vancouver Island, there is a basketball program on the rise that has largely been overlooked up until this point.
It has been brewing in a quiet section of Victoria, going unnoticed by many for years now. Part of it is their past finishes at provincials — part of it is just solely where they are situated geographically. But after a magical 2018 BC Provincial Championship which saw the Belmont Bulldogs go on a Cinderella run, they are not to be dismissed any longer.
This is the best kept secret in BC high school basketball: the Belmont Bulldogs.
Planting the seeds
Head coach Kevin Brown first arrived at Belmont when he was placed there on practicum while attending the University of Victoria. After his playing days at Clarence Fulton Secondary out in Vernon, he knew he wanted to coach in some capacity. To his surprise, he was “thrown into it” and given the reigns of the schools junior team.
After waiting in the wings, he finally got the senior boys coaching gig after longtime coach Miles Bryant retired. It gave him a chance to build the program the way he always wanted to build one.
“It’s [about] more than being a basketball player” said Brown on the Belmont basketball philosophy. “We’re really strong on student athletes and being members of the school community, the local community, and representing our school properly.
They’re grades have to stay up before they play. And when they’re on the court, we absolutely minimize any trash talking and swearing and things like that. [. . .] We really try and emphasise not doing those things because we want to be the team out there with the classy bunch of kids that play hard, get it done and hopefully leave with a [win].”
Brown credits this culture change to the students he has the pleasure of coaching every year. What has resulted is a culture where the older players are more than willing to show the younger players what it means to play for Belmont and what responsibilities that entails.
“When I took over senior I got lucky” Brown explained. “I had a wonderful group of kids and I felt the best way to go about it was to get the older kids involved with the younger kids. We had kids that were such good students, and good members of the community. Just good kids and their life was school and basketball. They weren’t out partying and doing things teenagers tend to do.
That kind of fed to the younger kids and it became an expectation. So our culture has built off of a really good group of kids, followed by another group, that learned from that group, that learned from that group. So when you come to Belmont the first day, or right now in the club team situation, you see what these seniors are doing and they learn really quick what is expected of them.”
The result of all of this?
Three straight trips to the annual tournament, being named Most Inspirational Team, and a fourth place finish in the 2018 provincials with seniors Nishad Tarak and Isaac Ickovich — two players who were brought up through this new culture of Belmont basketball — leading the way.
“The program has really grown since I came here” said Tarak on the growth of the program. “When I first came here, our junior team didn’t even make Islands. But this year, our Junior team came fourth.”
“When we started the season, all of us were thinking that this is our last year” said grade 12 centre Isaac Ickovich. “We want[ed] to make Provincials and hopefully win a game or two. If you were to tell us that we would be in the provincial semi-final, me personally I would have said no.”
Underrated no longer
In the seven years head coach Kevin Brown has been at the helm, he has helped transform the program from a little puppy on the basketball scene into a full-fledged emerging powerhouse.
However, just because of where they are located on the West Shore — about 25 minutes outside of Victoria — it can be hard to not only get to tournaments, but to be noticed as well.
[Going to provincials] is a big trip for an Island team” said Brown. “You have to take a ferry, stay in a hotel, and you’re over there away from your family for that long. It is a big deal.”
“I think we’ve always been underrated” said grade 12 guard Lucas Gage on the challenges from being a team from Vancouver Island. “Coming from the Island, not many teams know of us and we get shadowed out by Oak Bay. I think it was an advantage to us because no one really knew about us and everyone thought it was going to be a walk in the park against us.”
That won’t be the case from here on out. With a top four finish for both the junior and senior team at provincials, they should be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
“With the group of guys we have now, I think we can beat what we did last provincials” said grade 11 guard Daunte Nelson on what’s in store for the program. “I know Max [Leeder, grade 11 guard] and I are going to be working our tail off to get that.”
One thing is certain going forward; all eyes will be on the Belmont Bulldogs.
Written by: Nick Bondi