Basketball provincials: ‘I’ve been waiting two, three years to do this’

Alberta’s 4A high school basketball provincial championships kicked off on Thursday in Lethbridge and surrounding communities — a special affair for all involved after on-and-off seasons resulting from the pandemic.

Foothills Composite’s Alexa Hayes shoots a free throw during the 4A Basketball Provincial Championships in Lethbridge. (Ose Irete/CBC)

“I’ve been waiting two, three years to do this so it’s pretty exciting, to be honest,” said Caiden Kushnir, pictured below. 

“Lockdowns, restrictions; it’s all been really tough. [I] got a lot of work in but not a lot of games, so it’s finally refreshing to be able to play.”

After missing out due to the pandemic, this is the first and last time Kushnir, a senior at Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay High School, will be able to play at provincials. However, he said he is simply focused on getting on the court and doing the best he can.  

The six-foot-eight forward admits a lack of competitive game time may have hindered his basketball development, but he doesn’t want to dwell on that.

Holy Trinity Academy’s Lucas Barlow brings the ball up the court in Lethbridge March 17. (Ose Irete/CBC)

“I feel like [my development] slowed down a lot not being able to play people, but we’re back at it,” said Kushnir. “I’m looking forward to hopefully winning some games here and leaving a mark.”

Coaching challenges and community spirit

Raymond High School’s girls varsity coach Alan Gibb, pictured below, believes the season has been complicated for coaches. 

“Usually when you go into a season of basketball you have knowledge of previous players whether they played as Grade 10s [or] 11s,” said Gibb. 

“It’s been a little bit tougher to understand where individuals are at and where teams are at, but quickly as the year progressed, it’s been a fast season and teams have really tried to get out and play the best.”

Players vie for the ball during a game between Centennial High School and Grande Prairie Comp in Lethbridge Thursday. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Raymond — a town of just over 4,000 — has punched above its weight consistently, winning the 4A girls basketball provincials in 2005, 2009 and 2014. 

“We have a tradition of playing basketball. Sport is a big part of the community and we’ve missed that for a couple of years'” said Gibb. 

Fans in Holy Trinity Academy colours cheer their team on during Basketball Provincials in Lethbridge, AB on March 17, 2022. (Ose Irete/CBC)

“Some of these kids have been waiting since they were in Grade 4 and 5 … and they get to high school and that opportunity wasn’t available to them.”

St. Mary’s Saints Isaiah Nelson shoots a free throw at the 4A Basketball Provincial Championships in Lethbridge. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Parental pride

Ali McMillan drove from Calgary to watch her daughter Reilly’s William Aberhart High School team (both pictured below). For her, this tournament is more important than what happens on the court. 

“They’ve missed two years of social development because they haven’t been interacting, they haven’t been doing their sport,” said McMillan.

“Even driving them down here, a car full of kids and their music playing. It’s sad they missed that for two years and they’re so excited to be travelling and playing again,” she added. 

Although the excitement can be overwhelming at times.

“They haven’t played in front of a crowd,” said McMillan, “and it almost throws them off sometimes because there’s so much cheering and excitement.”

St. Mary’s Saints Luca Reynolds-Raby takes a breather Thursday during the 4A Basketball Provincial Championships in Lethbridge. (Ose Irete/CBC)

She said this moment will mean a lot to all involved, regardless of how they medal or finish. 

“Some of them haven’t played in two years, they never even got a high school season and now they’re playing in Grade 12  and they’re at provincials. It’s really gonna be emotional at the end of this tournament for them.”

Players from Okotoks’ Holy Trinity Academy gather for a huddle before their game against Leduc Composite High School. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Finals for 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A division basketball provincials will be played across the province on Saturday. 

Spectators take a look at the tournament bracket during the 2022 4A Basketball Provincial Championships. (Ose Irete/CBC)

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