Sir Charles Tupper head coach Jeff Gourley was reminiscing on a cold January night before a routine practice.
“When I started we’d be lucky to get seven guys to practice” said the longtime bench boss of the Tigers. “I was able to sign the team up for a lot of games as cannon fodder for home openers.
We’d be home opening games and the next thing you know we’d be invited to a tournament. [. . .] Things just progressed from there until the point where we’ve been extremely successful in the past 10 years.”
That success has included City and Lower Mainland championships, as well as multiple deep runs at the Provincial tournament.
The one thing that has escaped their grasp?
The all-elusive provincial title. And now that they’re the number one ranked team in AAA basketball at the time of writing, that dream looks more realistic than ever.
“Every year in the preseason, all we talk about is we know we’re one of the best teams in the province and we know we can compete for a provincial banner” said Simon Crossfield, the dominating grade 12 forward. “We know once we get that opportunity, we’re not going to miss it.
We know that there are plenty of good teams in this province, but we believe that we are the best.”
Heart Over Height
The Tupper Tigers heartbeat lies in its backcourt. Their two starting guards, Norben Bulosan and Gaurab Acharya, personify the “heart over height” mantra that a fellow vertically challenged man like myself can appreciate.
Bulosan is one of the best pure shooters in the province, finishing second in the three point shooting contest at the All-Star game last year.
“A lot of people call me short, most players actually” he said. “I just take that to my heart and say to myself that doesn’t really matter in the game of basketball.”
“Norben is just greased lightning, my god he can motor” said his head coach. “He’s a pleasure to coach.”
Acharya has been on Gourley’s radar since he was just five years old, when his older brother brought him along to the annual free summer camp that Gourley hosts in the Tupper gym. Acharya was originally designated to the office, watching a DVD of Finding Nemo.
“That went on about a week or so and my captain came up to me and said ‘Coach, you gotta see this. This is amazing.’
He said ‘Hey kid’, and this little guy comes walking up and my captain said ‘Do the spider drill’. And he starts doing the spider drill. Do this drill, do that drill, show us a layup.”
There wasn’t any more Finding Nemo after that. For at least 12 years, Gourley has been hyping up Acharya as a player to watch, and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t delivered on that promise.
“I’m always looked at as the small player on the court” said Acharya on being a smaller player in a big man’s game. “Bigger guards come and they look at me and they think ‘Oh he’s a mismatch.’ I never believe that. I always feel like I’m the better player.”
Gaurab and Norben's chemistry on the basketball court has been forged in the fire of competition, helping to create a strong friendship.
“We’ve been fighting for the point guard spot every year” said Bulosan. “But that kind of helped build our relationship because we’d also play together and practice. We helped get each other better and we push ourselves further.”
It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination
Gourley has seen many great players come and go through his program, some of which have gone on to do great things at the post-secondary level.
However, he may never have had a team as complete as this one. Sir Charles Tupper is currently ranked number one in the AAA rankings, and after winning the prestigious Timberwolves Classic they are amongst the favourites to win the title this season.
“Often times as a basketball coach you have the same problem year in and out — you either have a really good guard but no bigs, or you’ve got a great big but no one to give him the ball” explained Gourley. “This is one of those situations where we’ve got great guards and great forwards. [. . .] we’ve got a great squad and we go deep.”
His team this year will have to navigate the AAA landscape, one that Gourley says has an extreme amount of parity.
“[The provincial tournament] is going to be a hell of a show [. . .] The only difference between AAAA and AAA at the present moment is another 'A' when it comes down to it.”
Teams like Byrne Creek, Vernon, GW Graham, and Rick Hansen will have something to say about the Tigers claim but perhaps the team Sir Charles Tupper has the biggest rivalry with currently is with the North Delta Huskies. The two groups of seniors on both sides have been battling it out in big games since grade eight, with the most recent tilt being in the STMC Chancellor final.
“I think was a good experience for us because we don’t really know how well North Delta has been training” said Bulosan talking on the Chancellor final. “But now that we know that they really want it, this can help inspire our team that we should be working harder. We have been working hard, but that loss that we got is showing us that we should work even harder.”
“All five years we’ve always had great battles against North Delta” said Crossfield on the rivalry. “They’ve got some great players, and I think it really comes down to the day. Our record may show that they have more wins but I think it’s really about the day of.
I just know we’re going to have to beat them to get the provincial title and when it comes I think we’re going to be ready” he continued. “We’ve been training for that day and we can’t wait.”
If that day comes, Gourley trusts that his team will be ready. But for him, Tupper basketball is about the journey, not the destination and to that end he stresses the importance of community and social awareness. Many kids on the team are involved in the school’s Best Buddies program, and will wear pink jerseys in support of a number of causes such as anti-bullying, the fight against breast cancer, and Black Lives Matter.
“It’s how the kids grow together and be together [. . .] that’s what we’re developing at the present moment.”
“What coach always mentions is whatever we learn from the game, that’s transferable through life” said Acharya. “If we have periods where you're stuck and you’re behind, you can work hard by extra practice. He says basketball is the easiest thing in the world, the hardest thing is life. We don’t have kids to feed, we don’t have jobs, we’re just here playing basketball.”
“Tupper is like a fraternity” said Bulosan. “All the alumni that have played with us, it’s a brotherhood with them. Right now, we’re part of that brotherhood and that fraternity and it builds a friendship because we all help each other play basketball.”
While the destination may or may not end up in an ultimate victory, the journey will sure to be priceless for everyone involved.
Written by: Nick Bondi