By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Sydenham Golden Eagles are seeded eighth for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA basketball tournament next week in Ottawa.
The Eagles will be making the school’s second appearance at a provincial championship, and the first in a AA tournament.
That’s because the last time they went, in 1995, the Eagles found themselves in the triple-A event and ultimately in a game with Eastern Commerce, the Toronto high school of future NBA player Jamaal Magloire, “a big man who could shoot threes and dunk and do all the things that we hadn’t actually seen before,” recalled Jason Wimmer, a member of that Sydenham team who this year coached the Loyalist Lancers in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
It was a circuitous path that landed Sydenham in that tournament in Brampton, “the Mecca of basketball in Ontario,” as Wimmer described it.
Sydenham reached the final of the eastern Ontario championship that year. The winner of that game got to choose whether it would go to the AA or AAA event, and that year it chose the double-A tournament. That left Sydenham, the EOSSAA finalist, with the dubious consolation prize of getting its butt kicked at the triple-A event.
Doug Fraser was the coach of that team, and Wimmer started with Tim McGill, Tyler Huehmer, Jeff Ronan and Mike Templeton.
“We went up there and experienced basketball in a different way, but a really good way,” Wimmer said.
Sydenham lost both games, to London White Oaks and Commerce.
“The whole thing was a great experience of, wow, this is basketball in a whole wide spectrum," Wimmer said. "Most of the games that we played were in and around Kingston, a little in the Cornwall area. That was a faster, more athletic game that we weren’t really exposed to.
“It was an eye opener, that’s for sure.”
As a coach, Wimmer has dined out on the experience of having played against Magloire, who went on to win an NCAA championship with Kentucky and a 12-year career in the NBA.
“I say, ‘Hey, I played against Jamaal Magloire,’ and the kids are, like, ‘What! Really?’ and I’m, like, ‘Oh yeah, he dunked on us.’ He also hit a bunch of threes, which was really surprising.
“Having had that experience, for me now as a coach, I want to take my teams to Toronto and get them exposed to a bit of a different, faster game. I always thought my teams got better playing against some of those Toronto schools.
“I always thought it was preparation for OFSAA, if we ever got to OFSAA.”
Though his players had no idea what they were in for, Wimmer recalled that Fraser tried his best to prepare them for it.
“He just said to us, this is Toronto and this is good for your development, to get you guys to experience basketball outside of Kingston. It was about our development, as a team and individuals. Doug brought that out in a lot of us. We were all decent athletes, football players, and he gelled us into basketball players.
“I would have liked to have been exposed to it earlier in my high school playing career, but it helps me as a coach. If you want to be successful at OFSAA, you need to get outside of Kingston and play some games in Toronto.”
This year’s edition of the Eagles will play its first game at noon Monday against the tournament’s 14th-seeded team, St. Ignatius of Thunder Bay.
St. Francis of St. Catharines is the No. 1 seed at the 18-team event. Vaughan Road, at No. 2, and Burlington Assumption, at No. 3, are the other top-ranked teams. Vaughan Road, which won the championship in 2012, and Smiths Falls, this year’s No. 17 seed which won the tournament in 2011, are the only past champions in the field.
The last Kingston-area team to win it was Ernestown, in 2004.