NORTH DELTA â€” Since taking control of the North Delta Secondary Grade 8 basketball team five years ago, Jesse Hundal and Gary Sandhu built a team that has been by far the best in the city.
Over the past half-decade, the duo has led their teams to a 57-4 record in the Delta basketball league, including back-to-back undefeated seasons over the past two campaigns.
â€œWeâ€™ve seen the basketball program grow by leaps and bounds because of commitment from the boys and the girls in the school,â€ said Hundal.
â€œWe have practices at 7 a.m.,â€ Sandhu added. â€œSometimes these guys are there at 6:30.â€
However, all that success had come to an end when the Huskies reached the second round of the Fraser Valley Championships. The squad hasnâ€™t managed to make it past that point under the guidance of Hundal and Sandhu, but the coaches believe this is their year.
The team has won four tournaments this season â€“ L.A. Matheson, the North Delta Invitational, Fleetwood Invitational and Seaquam. Last Thursday (Feb. 12), they won the Delta league final with a 52-34 victory over Delta Secondary and now move on to the Fraser Valley playoffs, which begin Tuesday, Feb. 17 (updates at Fvbball.org).
Vital the teamâ€™s success are players Suraj Gahir, Arun Atker and Bhavraj Thiara, who play with DRIVE Basketball and are three of the most accurate shooters in Huskies history.
â€œI didnâ€™t think it was possible to see kids who put up 10 shots and score eight of them. Against Fleetwood Park â€¦ we hit 18 three-pointers. Itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve never even seen,â€ said Sandhu.
Pasha Bains, co-founder, director and head coach of DRIVE, said Gahir and Atker have played in close to 200 Amateur Athletic Union games each, which is one reason why they are so comfortable playing at the high school level.
â€œ(Thiara) is a little bit raw still, so weâ€™re just trying to improve his skill level because he just started,â€ Bains said. â€œWith (Gahir) and (Atker), confidence is definitely not the issue. They have more than enough of it. Itâ€™s more about refining their skills.â€
Due to the playersâ€™ high skill level, the coaches have had to tweak their practices to make sure all of their players are being challenged.
â€œWe run these guys like senior-level players because we know theyâ€™re so talented. We have to have an expectation or a compete level thatâ€™s so high to keep these guys engaged,â€ said Sandhu.
In many cases, the North Delta coaches have asked senior players and alumni to come and help out with practices so they become accustom to playing against bigger and stronger teams.
â€œThe rewards of the program for me are when I get former players to come back and help out,â€ Hundal said. â€œTo me, thatâ€™s the greatest honour in the relationships that Iâ€™ve built with these guys.â€
Sandhu said one of the reasons he took the job at North Delta was for an initiative called Husky Pride.
â€œIf you come here during the lunch hour or during a basketball game, you see it. You feel it. Itâ€™s something you canâ€™t artificially create. It comes from the students,â€ he said.
The basketball program has not only seen success in the wins column, but also off the court as the team showed how teammates care for each other.
Sandhu said one of the players isnâ€™t in the best financial situation and was wearing old shoes because his parents couldnâ€™t afford to buy him a new pair. Without saying anything, another boyâ€™s brother brought him his old basketball shoes, the coach said.
The shoes didnâ€™t fit, but it only motivated the team to come together to help out their friend.
â€œThese guys got together and pooled their money, gave it to us and Mr. Hundal bought him some brand new Nikes,â€ said Sandhu. â€œIt was a good team moment for them. You canâ€™t teach them to have that kind of compassion for someone. Thatâ€™s what Husky Pride is.
â€œIt makes all of the hours you spend worth it. Just that split second,â€ he added.