BASKETBALL: For this winning Dragon, it’s all in the wrist

FLEETWOOD — If there’s one person at Fleetwood Park Secondary who embodies perseverance, it’s Armaan Khangura.

The 18-year-old point guard led the Fleetwood Dragons through the league playoffs undefeated, won the Fraser Valley Basketball Championships and came from behind in the finals against the top-seeded Sir Charles Tupper Tigers to win the high school AAA boys’ team’s first provincial championship last month – all with a broken bone in his wrist.

Khangura, known by just about everyone as AK, broke his scaphoid, one of the carpal bones of the wrist, during preseason practice in September. Initially, doctors couldn’t tell from the X-rays if it was broken, but he was ultimately told he’d need surgery, which would force him to sit out his senior year.

"My parents really didn’t want me to play," said Khangura. "The doctors kind of scared them, saying I could lose nerves in my hand. But I couldn’t go out like that in my senior year."

"We taped him every game," said coach Nick Day. "He played through a lot of pain this year – there were times when he’d fall on it and you could tell he was really grimacing."

A leader in the locker room, Khangura recognized that many of his teammates rely on him for guidance on the court. He toughed it out, taking the Dragons through the Fraser Valleys, where they blew through White Rock Christian, fended off Princess Margaret and Sullivan Heights, and eked a 65-64 win over Rick Hansen Secondary to reach the semifinals.

They had a comparatively low-scoring game against Brookswood Secondary, closing 49-30, before finishing February with a down-to-the-wire victory against Robert Bateman Secondary in the final, which ended 72-69.

"AK hit the winning shot against Bateman with 10 seconds left," said Day. "It was a really emotional game."

Like the previous year, the Dragons headed into the provincials highly ranked, but Day recalled their short-lived run in the 2014 competition and hoped there wouldn’t be a repeat.

"Last year, we got knocked out in the first round against a good team from up north that people didn’t really know much about, and that team ended up going to the final," he said. "I think that served as motivation for this year, having that experience and knowing how that felt to go into something and not live up to the expectations."

For Khangura, the final on March 14 held a certain level of importance unlike any he’d played before.

"Before the game, all the seniors talked about it. We knew it was our last game playing together, so we just had to all leave it out there and do our parts. Everybody knew their roles on the team," he said.

Khangura’s role was to keep the fire burning in the belly of the team and erupt onto the court in the final frame.

"He never quits," said Day. "He doesn’t let the guys quit, he doesn’t let the guys drop off.

"He has learned over the years how to get his teammates going and when it’s time for him to take over a little bit. He understands the game more now than I think he did two years ago."

The Dragons won the final game 73-65, and Khangura was named second team all-star for his motivational management on and off the court.

At that point, the pain in his wrist was an afterthought.

"I didn’t feel it that game," he said. "It was just unreal. The adrenaline got to me."

Not only was this the first time Fleetwood has won a B.C. boys’ provincial championship, but it’s also the first time in 34 years a Surrey public school has won the title.

"It’s huge," said Day, who’s been coaching for 20 years. "There’s lots of good basketball in Surrey and I think it was just a matter of time before somebody broke through,

but to be the team to do it and to do it in the way we did it, it was pretty neat."

"It was crazy," added Khangura, "especially doing it for Fleetwood, knowing how many people were behind us. Not just the coaches, but the staff and everybody and all the alumni that came out – it was good that we got it done for them."

"Everybody that’s put time into the program, they get to feel part of this," said Day.

With the season wrapped up, Khangura’s next step is to get surgery. Then he’s looking at college ball, and his performance this season has generated some interest locally.

"Personally, (I think) he’s definitely got the ability to play at the next level," said Day. "There’s room for growth, but he’s a tremendous competitor and the coaches know what they’re getting. Being able to play through this injury all year just kind of shows what he’s willing to go through to win."

But, humble in victory, Khangura gave credit to not only his teammates, but to Day and coach Jordan Taylor for their hard work throughout the year.

"The players all worked hard and everything, but most of the credit goes to them," he said.

"(Day) did more than any coach would have done for us. He went through endless hours of tapes, went to different games – he did the most he could, and it really paid off."

jacobzinn@gmail.com

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