Palmer wins first-ever B.C. AAA senior boys' basketball title

Palmer point guard Billy Cheng was selected as the top defensive player at the provincial championships.  - John Gordon
Palmer point guard Billy Cheng was selected as the top defensive player at the provincial championships.
— image credit: John Gordon

Slow starts became a worrisome trend for the R.C. Palmer Griffins midway through the season. And early Saturday it looked like it might cost them a provincial championship.

But as so often before, Palmer was able rise from the ashes.

Down 19-2 to Vancouver College Fighting Irish at one point in the opening 10 minutes, the Griffins pulled to within seven at the end of the first quarter and showed an obvious shift in their body language. Palmer pulled to within a single point, 33-32, of the Irish at the half and then poured it on in the third quarter on their way to a 71-63 victory and their first AAA high school senior boys' basketball title.

Ironically, Palmer's win comes against a Vancouver College team coached by Bill Disbrow, who guided the last Richmond team (Colts) to win a provincial championship in 1998; also over Vancouver College.

"It's awesome, man," said a beaming Palmer coach Paul Eberhardt, whose choice to call a pair of timeouts on opposite ends of a TV break during the first quarter proved astute.

"Us being down happened so fast, but I think the timeouts helped settle the guys," he said. "During the timeouts I said, 'Guys, this is exactly what happened to us last year (when Palmer lost the AA final to Britannia) and we're better than this.' I could kind of see in their eyes they were angry and when (Jamie) Madewan made that first three-pointer it kind of loosened us up and we took all the momentum."

Overcoming a huge deficit obviously wasn't part of the Griffins' game plan, but Eberhardt said he was enormously proud of the poise the players demonstrated.

"I think it's amazing the way they held their discipline," he said. "It's very easy to lose it when things aren't going well but our guys rarely did that. They believed in the system."

Palmer started the game playing a zone defence, but wasn't getting much pressure before switching to man-to-man. Even then, Eberhardt said the Griffins still weren't getting a full press. That was the focus at halftime, after a lengthy discussion with associate coaches Ryan Strachan and Brian Meier.

The Griffins all but won the game in the third quarter, dominating the Irish in every facet and outscoring them 21-10.

"I think we were overwhelmed by the atmosphere to start," said Palmer point guard Billy Cheng, who had eight assists and 11 points. "We got lucky when we came back because V.C.'s a very good team, but I think all the work paid off. We deserved this."

The tournament's top defensive player and a second team all-star, Cheng also gave a shout out to teacher-coach Steve Glover, who opened the gym every morning for the boys, and to the alumni for their ongoing help and support.

Third team all-star Mike Zayas, who contributed nine points in the final game, said winning the B.C. title with his friends was the greatest sporting moment of his life.

"It feels great, especially after the pain we went through in Grade 11," he said. "But our previous experience helped us out so much, and it kept us humble. We knew we had a pretty good draw going into this tournament but Ebe always reminded us we had to work hard to everything. Our chemistry is what won us this game."

Two Griffins were selected to the first all-star team. Ranjodh Hare, who scored 13 points and pulled down 17 rebounds joined Vijay Dhillon who led all players with 26 points in the final. Dhillon was also selected as the tournament's most valuable player.

With Madewan leading the way, and several Grade 11s also expected back, Palmer could be a provincial championship contender again next season, insists Eberhardt.

"They're anxious to keep up the tradition that's now been established," he said.


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