To say basketball has been good to seven members of the Vernon Panthers senior boys team is a bit of an understatement.
Zack Smith, Isaiah Ondrik, Kevin Morgan, Liam Reid, Trent Charlton, Saajan Klair and Jimmy Atwal are the greatest septet in Panthers history.
They’ve played together since they were beaners in Grade 8, five years. In five years, they’ve lost one home game and, counting a win in the Okanagan Valley championship Saturday in their final home game, have been to the provincial championships all five years, achieving the school’s highest placing in three of the previous four years.
Last year, the Super Seven helped VSS to the gold-medal game at the B.C. AAA Senior Boys championships, losing by two points in the final to the North Delta Huskies.
This year, the Panthers are ranked No. 2 and the seven would love to finish their career with the city’s first-ever senior boys basketball provincial title.
The Cats secured back-to-back OK Valley AAA titles with a convincing 80-48 win over Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Huskies.
Tournament MVP Ondrik paced the Panthers with 26 first-half points as VSS built up a 52-16 lead. Ondrik finished with 37 points and eight rebounds in three quarters. Smith added 15 points, eight boards and was named a tournament all-star.
“We played outstanding team defence all weekend which was key to our success,” said Panthers head coach Malcolm Reid. “We held a good OKM team to eight first-quarter points and 16 first-half points which is very hard to do.”
In semi-final action, the Huskies toppled the South Kamloops Titans 70-60 in a see-saw battle. Tournament All-Star AJ Sandhu (OKM) led all scorers with 31 points, including six three-pointers. Maxen Adams from South Kamloops was also named a tournament all-star, bagging 20 points.
In the other semi-final, the Panthers honoured their seven graduating seniors prior to the game and went on to crush the No. 5 seed Sa-Hali Sabres of Kamloops 102-73.
Ondrik led all scorers in the semis, canning 29 points with an efficient 11 of 12 shooting performance. Tournament all-star Morgan chipped in 22 points and a game-high seven rebounds while Atwal added 17 points including five shots from East Hill Eatery.
The Panthers (27 wins – 4 losses) return to the AAA Tournament looking to avenge their last-second loss in the Provincial Final in 2019.
With all but one player returning from that game, they hope that that experience will serve them well.
“We had a great run last year, but every season is a new animal. Winning four games in a row in four days is a tough thing to do. However, if anyone can do it…it’s this group,” said Reid.
The Panthers have only lost one game to a AAA opponent this season. They will find out their opening-round opponent on March 1.