Locked Out By COVID: Belleville Spirits Look Back on Last Year’s Success
By Geordie Michell Belleville Spirits Basketball
U10 Belleville Spirits
The U10 Belleville Spirits were the youngest team ever assembled in the organization, but by the end of the year they played like they had been doing it for years. The team was made up of four each of 7, 8, and 9 year-olds. Meanwhile, most of their competitors in the Ontario Basketball League (OBL) were all 9 years of age. Although outsized when they played their very competitive OBL season games in Toronto, they always managed to come home winning 50% or more of their games. They were also very successful in the local tournaments in Belleville and Picton. The coaches knew the year would be a process, and focused on the players’ growth throughout the season. Assistant Coach Jon Bell said that, “One of the nice things about working with young players who are new to the game, is that you get to set and shape the level of expectation of what basketball is. If you ask more of them (and we consistently did) they are eager to learn and do the work.”
The boys’ growth started to really show in their last month of play leading up to the Ontario Cup that was scheduled for early March. It started with their sweeping the last weekend of OBL season play, which included beating the #1 seed in their division, the undefeated Toronto Triple Threat, in a grueling back-and-forth game. This was a huge confidence boost for the boys and they would ride that momentum to the Northern Kings tournament, with some of the top teams in the province, the following weekend.
The U10 boys walked into the Northern Kings tournament ready to play. They started the weekend by taking down the Toronto JCC Maccabi Warriors. They continued their strong play throughout the round robin to earn a place in the finals against the heavily-favoured Northern Kings. The boys played their hearts out, but eventually fell to the older and more experienced Northern Kings. “You can’t underestimate the value of facing good competition. We chose the NK tournament to help the kids see the level of execution and competition that is required, and facing it helped them bring it out in each other,” shared Bell.
The boys’ growth was evident to both the coaches and the players as they went to the Ontario Cup in London ranked #2 in their division. In their first game, they got off to a slow start before beating Pelham 30 – 19. After shaking off the jitters in game 1, the boys handled the DK Dragons, defeating them 46 – 18. This set the stage for them to face their arch-rivals, the Thornhill Thunder, to see who would gain a berth to the finals. The previous time these two teams had battled each other, the Thunder hit a heartbreaking buzzer beater to take the game. This time the Spirits were determined to come out on top.
The Spirits started the game with the best half they had played all season, and were up by 11 points at halftime. The Thunder tried to punch back after half, but the Spirits weathered the onslaught, taking the game 30-22, and making it to the finals against the well-coached and evenly-matched Peterborough Power. The Spirits and Power had played 4 times throughout the year with each team winning 2. The Spirits did not take the Power for granted and used their momentum from their last win to propel them to a 30-22 Ontario Cup Championship! It was a season to remember!
U12 Belleville Spirits
The U12 Belleville Spirits’ season had a lot of ups and downs, but although the process was arduous at times, the outcome was sweet. Several interruptions due to sporadic bouts of severe weather caused a multitude of rescheduled games that had the boys struggling to find their groove early on. Their results matched the weather: bright wins, mirrored by some dreary losses. Coach Corey Rump felt that the various gaps in the Ontario Basketball League (OBL) East schedule slowed the team’s growth in terms of transferring their practice efforts into game success.
Despite the hardships, the boys continued to persevere, practice hard, stay positive and support one another. “We were fortunate to have a group with great leadership, chemistry and commitment to improving as individuals and as a team,” said Rump. The returning players from the previous year were instrumental in patiently helping to get their newer teammates, who showed immense growth in their first season, up-to-speed and integrated into both their offensive and team defensive systems. That cohesion and chemistry would allow the boys to overcome the stop-and-go nature of their season.
By the time late January rolled around, the U12 Spirits started to get into their groove. Rump recalled that, “…we were fortunate to be able to participate in tournaments in Brockville and Cornwall. It was in those tournament games where we started to realize our potential and gel as a group in game situations.” At that point the boys started closing the gap on teams, playing very competitive games against the Cornwall Lions and Kanata Cavaliers, two strong squads with size and good guard play. When invitations to the OBL East Division 3 Championship came, the Spirits were excited at the possibility of meeting one of those teams in the finals.
The U12 Spirits’ commitment to improving as a team throughout the year paid off at the OBL East Championship. The team played with more consistency and wound up earning a berth in the gold medal game against the Kanata Cavaliers squad that they had lost to in a close battle only four weeks prior. “The boys were excited to make adjustments and take another crack at beating Kanata with the gold medal on the line,” said Rump.
The final was a back-and-forth affair with both teams exchanging the lead throughout the game, but with just under a minute to play, and a 2-point lead, Callum Rump drove hard to the basket, drawing a help defender. He trusted his teammate, making the right pass to Gage Forbes who was waiting in the corner to drain a three. Max LaCroix then stepped up to make key free throws to seal the victory and the boys were crowned champs! “The player’s steady improvement and contributions to the team prove that commitment and hard work will always pay off,” exclaimed Coach Rump.
U14 Belleville Spirits
In the Fall of 2019 the U14 Spirit Boys tryouts saw a lot of interest and resulted in two teams being created. The U14 “A” team (pictured above), coached by Marc Ray, consisted of nine 13-year-olds (four of whom were over 6 feet tall) and three 12- year-olds. A new element to this age group of play is “non-structured minutes” where playing time is earned (the younger age groups have an equal playing time structure). Coach Ray shared that, ”Each and every one of the boys worked hard: diligently practicing, showing development and heart to earn the minutes they were given to play throughout the season.
When exhibition games were arranged in early October, they were able to put what they had been working so hard on into action. The boys came together, played as a team and were able to execute plays. The team won all their games and clearly had chemistry. Their early success gave the players and their fans a glimpse of the season that was to come.
When the Eastern Ontario Basketball Association (EOBA) league play started, the U14 Spirits’ size proved to be a major advantage, giving them a strong physical presence on the floor and the ability to execute a lockdown zone defense. While bigger than most of their opponents, they were also very quick. Their speed enabled them to move the ball up the floor quickly, beat full court presses and get easy transitions baskets.
“As much fun as it was watching these boys, I’m positive they would tell you that it was even more fun to play,” said Ray.
He recalled how each game different players stepped up to show what they could offer: whether it was blocking a shot, a dish in the paint, boxing out to secure a rebound, taking a charge, or a clutch three-pointer in the final seconds of the game, it seemed that the U14 Spirits could do it all!
By the time the scheduled league games were finished in early March, the U14 Spirits “A” team were undefeated in league play and ranked #1 in their division of the EOBA and #39 in Ontario. They were excited at the prospect of making other teams take notice of what they could do at Provincials, but their season was unceremoniously cut short with Covid-19 restrictions being implemented. It was an unfortunate end for a team that was bound for even further success.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of these boys develop further throughout their highschool careers. I can’t wait to see where they go from here,” said Coach Ray.
The Belleville Spirits Basketball Club strives to assist our players in reaching their maximum potential, both as basketball players and citizens of our community.
Our players will learn that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. They will learn to win with humility and lose with grace. They will learn to see opportunities instead of obstacles. They will learn that nothing worth achieving comes without hard work. They will develop the self-confidence to take on any challenge that will face them, both on and off the basketball court.