Junior boys claim NorWOSSA gold

So comprehensive was the Muskies’ domination in their 56-30 rout of the Dryden Eagles last Thursday in Kenora for the NorWOSSA junior boys’ basketball crown, so cool and lethal was their offence, so airtight and comprehensive was their defence, so elegant was the play calling from the coaches, it seemed almost being cruel in the end.
They weren’t being cruel, of course. It’s just their win was so grand that it made Dryden simply look petite.
“It is very difficult to describe what I’m feeling right now. I am so happy,” head coach Claude Gagnon said.
But one thing was clear—on this night, where the cold temperature outside was juxtaposed with the humidity swirling inside the gym, the Muskies were not only decisive, but historic.
The black-and-gold—sporting just a 2-6 record during the regular season—became the first third-place seed to ever win the gold medal in junior boys’ basketball.
“That means a lot,” said Jordan York.
After an exhaustingly frustrating regular season where the Muskies showed signs of anemia on offence and symptoms of laziness on defence, they came together like a jig-saw puzzle last Thursday in Kenora with each player providing a piece to the solution.
But the one piece that did it for the Muskies was a little thing basketball enthusiasts call the 2-1-2 zone.
“The zone was the plan. We are capable of scoring points, but we had difficult in playing defence before, so we went with a 2-1-2 and it worked,” said Gagnon.
Gee, ya think.
The Muskies had implemented it during their semi-final showdown against the host Broncos earlier Thursday. And though it needed some minor adjustments (Kenora led 15-13 at halftime), it worked well as the black-and-gold emerged with a 40-33 victory.
Morgan Anderson led the way with nine points while Scott Gurski had seven and Joey Theriault-Martel added five.
The Muskies then had almost eight hours to think about what they planned to do against the top-seeded Dryden Eagles, and Gagnon could be seen using the time effectively.
Taking a spot along the gym floor, his back on the wall and his Montreal Canadiens jacket on his lap, Gagnon cradled a notepad and wrote notes on what he wanted to see implemented in the final.
It must have worked as the Muskies jumped out to an 8-0 lead to start the game. Garnet Cornell made his presence known early, which caused the Eagles’ to adjust their defence and subsequently led to his wing players being open for the pass.
One of those wing players who took advantage of being given “the rock” (as the kids call the basketball nowadays) was York, who was Dennis Rodman-like in his rebounding abilities and John Paxson-like in his buzzer-beating shots.
Take this play-by-play, for instance:
First quarter. Five seconds left. York with a shot 20 feet from the outside. Miss. Followed his own rebound. Collected it dangerously close to the out-of-bounds marker. Pivoted his body to the inside and then jumped.
Flick. Swish. Horn.
“I looked at the scoreboard and saw there were only a few seconds left on the clock and then jumped up, saw the basket, threw it one-handed, and it just went in,” York recalled.
And as the ball went in the basket, out went Dryden’s confident attitude. The Muskies had built up an amazing 23-8 lead after the eight minutes of the first quarter—and they didn’t stop there.
The 2-1-2 defence started to show signs of wear on the Eagles. The trick to beating a zone defence is to have capable outside shooting that will stretch the defence and thus create cutting lanes for your wing players.
But the Eagles didn’t have outside shooting—and the Muskies knew it.
“It was our plan to keep a good zone because they don’t really have any good outside shooters,” noted Cornell. “So if you keep them away from the inside, then we knew that we’d have a good day.”
The stifling Muskie defence led to a transition offence, which is the best type of offence because it involves garnering chances like open lay-ups and odd-man breaks.
And all of a sudden, the black-and-gold had opened up a 34-11 lead at halftime.
“It’s not over yet,” the passionate Gagnon could be heard yelling to his players.
The Muskies kept coming in the second half. Kept churning forward on a hill to the NorWOSSA gold medal instead of putting themselves in neutral and sliding back to the bottom like they had done so many times during the regular season.
This was the Muskies’ night. Maybe it was the large amounts of Gatorade the players drank before the game started, or perhaps the cheering from their Muskie counterparts, but no one could take it away from them.
Not the 13 players on the Dryden bench, not the 14 players on the Kenora bench, and certainly not themselves.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen them play this year, but that was our plan,” said Gagnon, with the wily coach uttering the last part of his sentence with a sly smile.