With the second half of basketball season underway, it was only fitting that we took a drive out to the small community of Cloverdale to check in with one of the top teams in the province, the Panthers senior boy’s team.
Nestled in the heart of a town known for its farming culture, Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary basks in all its emerald glory. Banners decorate glass cabinets that surround a gym so vibrantly painted into a fierce black panther, who through bright green eyes has ultimately watched fourteen athletes dedicate themselves to their team.
“For me, all fourteen players understand that this journey is much bigger than a game,” said head coach Drew Gallacher. “And because they’ve been friends for so long, that they are true brothers.”
Gallacher, who’s in his 10th year at Lord Tweedsmuir, has been coaching basketball for 25 years. He says this season is particularly unique because alongside all of his seniors who have been playing together since middle school, his very own son laces up his sneakers and hits the hoops.
“This is a special year because not only am I coaching a special group of kids, but my son’s on the team as a Grade 12 student, too.”
It’s a given that any squad inevitably will become close while laying it out in the paint week after week together. But this group of ballers truly defines what it means to be a team. Most of these boys have been playing with each other since Grade 6, leading to an undeniable chemistry both on-and-off the court.
“Our chemistry is really good off the court and it just really translates on the court, as well. Just everybody kind of knows each other’s tendencies and there’s a really good mix between the Grade 11s and 12s. A lot of times, there can be like a rift and a gap between the 11s and 12s to have them play with each other, but this year everything’s just going really well together,” said Arjun Samra.
Samra, a point guard for Tweeds, understands the importance of each player’s role. In fact, the entire team works like a machine—each cog grinding in an almost harmonious manner. Pair that with the sheer love they all have for one another, and it’s easy to see why they own the top spot on the 4A throne.
“They’re all my boys,” said Panthers’ shooting guard Austin Swedish. “I’ve been playing with them for years now and I love ‘em.”
Five years, to be exact, Swedish has called this team his family—a common thread in this story.
“We’re all like family basically, we’re like brothers,” said shooting guard Alex Le. “We love playing with each other, we love being with each other, we love winning together and we’re all competitive and we all want the same goal; we always want to compete with heart and play our hardest and just be number one in the province.”
As with any great team, the coach plays a vital role in the success of the athletes, too. And that success starts outside of the sport.
“I’ve known [Coach Gallacher] since Grade 3ish and YMCA league, so I’ve known him for a long time. We’ve gotten to know other really well,” Samra commented on his relationship with Coach G. “He’s helped me a lot and he really pushes you to be the best you can, so I really like him.”
“He’s somewhat like a father figure,” said point guard Patrick Jonas.
Next Man Standing Up
As a brotherhood—a family—there’s an underlying pact of stepping up when one of your brothers falls down.
For Tweedsmuirs’ Jonas, spending his last season on the bench after suffering a torn ACL is not exactly ideal.
“It sucks to be on the bench because I really want to be out there playing with them in my last year, but it’s okay because they’re doing what we do and they’re winning,” said Jonas.
Winning without one of your star forwards can be a difficult feat, but Coach Gallacher credits their “Next Man Standing Up” mentality for the team’s accomplishments so far this season.
“When [Jonas] went down, that was at the Kodiak Klassic. There’s not doubt that we felt sorry for ourselves because these dreams about winning provincial title—we thought—evaporated because he’s such a prolific scorer. And in that tournament, we got shellacked by both Terry Fox and Burnaby South.
It was the first time that I’ve been with this group since Grade 5 that they didn’t compete. And again, it’s because they were feeling sorry for themselves. Slowly but surely, they started to gain a little bit more confidence, talked to them a lot about next man standing up and that’s what has occurred.”
Gallacher admits that Jonas’ future on the court is unsure, but they’re hoping he’ll be back just in time for playoffs. Regardless, the depth of the Panthers is clear and each player has stood up for their fallen brother by devoting himself to the game.
And assistant coach Harp Gill says this team is built on a foundation of great core values.
“They work really hard. Not just on the court but in the weight room, individual work, and they’re constantly asking the right questions, how can you get better, how can we get better?” Gill said. “And the other thing is the unselfishness of this team. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”
Eyes on the prize
After defeating Burnaby South at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational in December 2018, Lord Tweedsmuir realized they have what it takes to compete against the top teams in BC this season.
“That was an amazing accomplishment," recalled Coach G. "I don’t think many people thought that we could win that tournament early on, but the guys came together as a team, you know everyone believes in themselves, you know you’re winning one game at a time and we just felt like we can do this, we can compete with the top three teams and yeah, we did it. It was a lot of heart and we ended up winning the tournament.”
Samra, with a cheeky grin, agrees.
"It was pretty sick to beat Burnaby South in the [TBI] because we’ve played those guys for like, a lot of years. We played them in Grade 9 Finals Provincials, we played them a lot in Grade 10…we kind of have a little bit of a rivalry, so it was good to beat them, especially because they beat us by 30 the tournament before that at the Heritage Woods one. So it was good just to finally beat them one more time."
The Panthers, who were sitting at the number one spot before entering the Legal Beagle Invitational this past weekend, have their eyes on the prize: one tournament win is not enough. Each opponent brings a new challenge to the game that Tweeds welcomes with open arms.