Strikers gaining game by game

MVP Arnold Macalipay and coach Brian Meier hoist the championship trophy at the Joker
MVP Arnold Macalipay and coach Brian Meier hoist the championship trophy at the Joker's Classic.
— image credit: sub

It was just over two weeks ago that the Hugh McRoberts Strikers high school senior boys’ basketball team was overwhelmed by the King George Dragons, as the province’s No. 4-ranked AA squad soundly defeated the unranked Strikers 77-57 in their season-opener Nov. 26.

Last Thursday the teams met again in the final of the John Oliver Joker’s Classic. But this time it was different. The Strikers, which had since won five games in a row, sported a renewed sense of confidence to go along with its resolve which resulted in a well-earned 68-59 victory in overtime.

“It was an incredible game and our first tournament victory since reconstructing the basketball program (at McRoberts),” said coach Brian Meier, who has worked tirelessly to revive the Strikers’ former hoops glory.

“I really think (King George) is even better than perceived, so I was happy us being within 20 points of them in our first meeting. It helped us that they were missing their big six-foot-seven post player for (Thursday’s) game, but none of their other starters are under six feet and they can all play too. They won earlier in the tournament 120-40 and I think the next closest anyone had come to them, besides us, was within 39 points. We held them to 59 points in 45 minutes and I certainly didn’t see that coming.”

Fortunately defence is McRoberts’ bread and butter. And never has it proven to be more important.

“It was the best we could play,” said Meier.

“We know we have some athletic guys, but most are multi-sport athletes and not basketball players first. If we’re going to be successful we have to buy into playing well without the ball.”

The Strikers were able to take the Dragons to overtime with the teams tied 53-53 through regulation. They had several good looks at the basket and perhaps even deserved to win in four quarters, with an open jump shot by John Tseng, their impressive six-foot-four Grade 11 guard, bouncing off the back rim as time expired.

“He looked so depressed, but I told him, ‘Hey, it was a great shot,’” said Meier.

In overtime Tseng, who is frequently his own toughest critic, was instrumental in the Strikers’ persistence being rewarded.

Tseng, who helps to coach the Grade 8 boys’ team at McRoberts, is an example of the talented, but more importantly dedicated athletes Meier is relying on. Through nine games this season, Tseng—who benefitted from playing senior ball as a Grade 10 last year and has since began working out regularly with weights—is averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Along with Nolan Howell, who is also six-foot-four, he provides the Strikers with some much needed height in the starting lineup. Both players were first team all-stars at the John Oliver tournament, with Howell’s biggest contribution coming on the boards where he pulled down 17 rebounds in the final game.

“It was a big thing for us to keep King George’s athleticism in check,” said Meier. “If we could do that we knew we’d have a chance to win because we’re often in close games. Now we’re starting to finally learn how to finish them off.”

While Meier promotes a family atmosphere at McRoberts—and the senior Strikers reflect it well—there’s little doubt that Arnold Macalipay stirs the drink. MVP at the John Oliver tournament, McRoberts’ starting point guard is still only in Grade 10 and already one of the best players in senior basketball in the province let alone Richmond. Averaging 18-plus points, eight assists and rebounds per game, he continually amazes Meier with his athleticism.

“I’ve coached him since Grade 8 and also had him on regional and provincial select teams and every game he still does something unbelievable that makes me shake my head,” Meier said of Macalipay, who last summer suited up for the provincial under-15 boys’ team. “Arnold continues to improve because his decision making also improves as he gets more experience. His turnovers continue to decrease, and playing another summer against some of the best players throughout Canada and Washington state he’s learned not to force the play.”

Returning to league play this week—posting victories over A.R. MacNeill Ravens (63-58 Monday and Richmond Christian Eagles 99-38 Tuesday)—the Strikers also strengthened themselves with the addition of talented Grade 11 Tony Ye. A defensive specialist, Ye, who provides the team with a lot energy, is returning to the team after being given time off by Meier to focus on writing SATs.

Further reflecting the growth of the Strikers, the team’s leading scorer against Richmond Christian was Evan Lee. The team’s sixth man last season, the McRoberts’ back-up Grade 10 guard had 21 points.

It’s taken a significant amount of time and patience waiting for the boys’ basketball program at McRoberts to again be considered serious title contenders. But there’s every indication that time has arrived.

“We had a clear idea of what we wanted to attain, but it’s been a lot easier when you come from a program that had some success,” said Meier, who helped coach the Paul Eberhardt-led R.C. Palmer Griffins to the B.C. AAA high school senior boys’ basketball championship in 2011. “And Edward Fan, who played for us in the early days at Palmer, has also been instrumental in our success at McRoberts having coached the current Grade 10 group since they were in Grade 8. Our feeling is that every game, no matter the score, is an opportunity to learn. As long as we improve, we’re succeeding.”

After two games, both wins, in the Richmond senior boys’ basketball league, the Strikers—hoping to qualify for the provincial AA championships in March, share top spot with the Steveston-London Sharks, a AAA team, who have also won their first two  league games.

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