As the final game of the season — they didn’t earn a spot in the inaugural CEBL Championship Weekend — it certainly wasn't the ending the Fraser Valley Bandits had hoped for.
After a tough first quarter that saw them put up only 10 points, the Bandits actually outscored the Edmonton Stingers 75-71, but ultimately it wasn’t enough, and the Stingers took it 95-85 Thursday night. The Bandits season ends with a 4-16 record.
“After that really difficult start, we found our groove a little bit, I thought we played hard, and we played with good energy for the most part,” says head coach and General Manager Peter Guarasci. “Every time we had a chance to turn it in to a six or eight point game, we had a bit of mental lapse — a turnover or a rushed shot.”
It wasn’t quite the ending the players had hoped for. Nor probably the nearly 3,000 fans who showed up for one last home game.
But the mood at the game was far from sombre.
In fact, the opposite was the case. Fans were excited, making noise for a couple of highlight dunks in the first half. All through the game — even when a late comeback finally appeared out of reach — the fans were loud, and the Abbotsford Centre was electric.
“They’re doing their part,” says veteran player Ransford Brempong. “I mean on the bench, we kept saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to give the fans something to rally around.’
The 38 year old former member of the Canadian National Team got a taste of the fans’ appreciation when he was honoured at halftime, having earlier announced his retirement after this season. (Brempong is also a basketball coach based in North Vancouver, as the director of 3PointBasketball and owner of WestCoast Training).
“Even though our record wasn’t that great, we went to all the other teams in the league, and I would say our fans were definitely in the top half, and that’s pretty impressive, to be honest,” Brempong says.
Coach Guarasci similarly appreciated the energy of the fans — which was consistent throughout the season.
“If I could say one thing, the fans, it’s been a total pleasure to coach in front of these fans and the community in Abbotsford. I’ve always felt that they were engaged in the game, and supporting the team no matter what our record was,” he shares.
“So if there was one MVP this season, in my mind, it’s the community of Abbotsford and the fans.”
But Guarasci also gives a lot of credit to the team in front of him.
“It sounds kind of funny, but even though we only had four wins, I couldn’t ask for a group of guys to go through that other than this group. We had no flare-ups, no issues, the guys were very professional the whole year. They were easy to come to practice and work with. They were just solid individuals,” he says. “They’re high character guys, and it was a privilege to coach them.”
“Great group of guys,” says Brempong. “I’ve been on a lot of different teams and there’s been teams that you don’t win and there’s a lot of disgruntledness and a lot of bickering. But this group of guys, we were all really like family. Like each game, we went into it, and it was the same mindset — no one hung their heads. It’s very easy with our record for there to have been a lot of bickering on the bench and in the games, and there wasn’t much of that.”
It was a tough season for the Fraser Valley Bandits in their inaugural season.
After losing their first nine games, the Bandits seemed to have figured it out, going on a stretch winning four out of five games only to fall back down to Earth and lose their final six games.
“It was just tough, we had to fight so hard to get back into the win column,” explains Guarasci. “Once we caught a couple more losses, it became tough to find that grind, that hunger that we needed to get out of 0-9.”
But with a fanbase seemingly willing to buy in, and a team culture that persevered through tough times, the future could be looking up for the Bandits.
Written by: Austin Cozicar