The weight of expectations can do many things to a basketball team.
It can bind them together. It can help them rise to the occasion. It can perhaps even bog them down.
And although this season is yet to be written, the North Delta Huskies and expectations that they and others have put on themselves has yet to affect how they approach their season, or the results on the court.
“We’re trying to win a provincial for the school, for the community, and most importantly for the guys that we’ve had for five years” said North Delta head coach Jesse Hundal talking to BC Sports Hub after a game.
“The standard is high, and that reflects in our practices, in the preparation Gary [Sandhu, assistant coach] does with them, it reflects in our team philosophy, skill development, our concepts. Whatever it is that we’re doing it’s to win. The guys have bought in, coaching staff has bought in, we’re ready to go.”
Thank You, Next
Despite the past success of the program, the recent history of the North Delta Huskies has been defined by the victories that have just slipped through their fingers.
In 2017, a loss in the semi-finals at the Junior Provincial tournament forced them to settle for third place. A year later, it was the same story as they lost a closely contested game to the Byrne Creek Bulldogs in the semis at AAA Provincials.
“I think last season we had a pretty good start and we kept progressing” said Vikram Hayer, one of the seniors on the team. “But obviously third place, we’re not satisfied with that. It’s not how we wanted to finish off but I think we learn[ed] a lot.”
“We went toe to toe with Byrne Creek” said assistant coach Gary Sandhu. “Martin [Djunga] is a good player, Bal [Dhillon] is a good coach. They made the adjustments and they kind of isolated our two best players, and took away our scoring threats [. . .] It hurt. We had some guys that were in tears, and we learned a lot from it.”
Despite the pain the loss caused the team was right back at it afterwards, gearing up for one last run with for current crop of seniors.
“The day after provincials we were all in the gym improving” said point guard Suraj Gahir “and this year is going to be a whole different year.”
“Realizing that you only get this opportunity for four years, you only get to play in provincials for four years, for me it’s always about winning a provincial championship” said Arun Atker. “Our main goal coming in was to win.”
If North Delta is finally going to get over the proverbial hump, a large part of it will be dependent on the improved play of Suraj Gahir. The point guard is one of the most electrifying players in BC high school basketball, seemingly capable of taking over games by himself on both ends on the floor.
“I think it’s just playing for the guys and not letting them down” said Gahir on what motivates him to become a better player. “I know they’re doing their job, I have to do mine as well.”
“If you look at what he can do, offensively he can play all five positions” beamed Hundal when prompted to describe Gahir. “He can pass, he can shoot, he can get to the lane. Defensively, he can guard all five guys. He can guard the smallest guy, he can guard the post, he can be in the front of a zone. He can play any position.
[There’s] a little bit of Magic Johnson is in him, [because] he loves the stage. I think there’s a bit of Giannis in him. But if you look at his stats, he’s similar to LeBron James. When you want him to take over a game, he does. When you want him to make the players around him better, he does that juts like LeBron does. So I think he’s a hybrid of those three guys in what he does.”
“Sometimes you’re on the bench and you’re just watching him like ‘Oh my God’ said Sandhu. “It’s hard for me not to get up because it’s a habit. So many times him and I have gotten into trouble from refs because he’s up and I’m up and I’m like oh I can’t do that.”
Fellow seniors Arun Atker and Vikram Hayer are also expected to lead the charge for the Huskies this season. The two bring a hard working, relentless attitude to the team that may serve the team well once the Calendar turns to March.
“Vik is a blue collar soldier” said Hundal. “He’ll give it his all. He’ll crash, he’ll bang, he’ll fight he’s a scrapper. Arun he’s a little pit bull. He’s wiry tough and he’ll shoot and attack. Defensively he’ll work hard. [. . .] He’ll do the most amazing things going against stronger, tougher, players but he won’t back down from them.”
If they continue to play to the level they’ve shown thus far, it could be a very special season for the North Delta Huskies. Ask any of the players and coaches what it would mean to win a provincial championship, and they struggle to put it into words.
“It would mean everything” said Hayer. You only get a few years to go to the provincials and that’s all we’ve working for ever since grade eight. To finally get that, there would be nothing like it.”
“It’s frustrating because you want it so bad but you don’t know if you’re going to get it” said a passionate Sandhu. “All you can do is try. If we were to win it, I’d be so happy for the kids. I’d be so happy for these guys.”
But perhaps Hundal said it best when asked what it would mean for himself and the program to finally win it all.
“I think it would mean the world for my guys” he exclaimed. “I would be more happy with them receiving the provincial title. Just allowing me to share the journey with them, because my best moments as a coach has been with them.
I’ve always told them, I don’t make you look good. You guys always make me look good. I’m so proud of these guys, my relationship with them is going to continue outside the court.”
Written by: Nick Bondi