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No championship but Royals emerge as champions just the same

Like so many who are bunkered down and bulking up on vitamin C, Douglas College Royals coach Joe Enevoldson has the concern of his family, friends and players foremost on his mind.

Like so many who are bunkered down and bulking up on vitamin C, Douglas College Royals coach Joe Enevoldson has the concern of his family, friends and players foremost on his mind.

A basketball season of so many pinnacles, including a 17-1 record during the regular season, was shuttered due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic. If everything was right in the world, Douglas would have played this weekend (March 16 to 21) in Toronto for the big prize.

Enevoldson, the team’s coach and architect, says while there are bigger things than basketball in these trying times, that doesn’t diminish the frustration the squad felt over the lost opportunity.

“It’s very disappointing. Obviously from where we were at and the success we had all year, disappointing to see we weren’t going to be able to close it out on our terms,” said Enevoldson. “Obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world and we have to take care of ourselves, our families and everything like that, but this team was a family. It was really, really painful to see them not get a chance to play for a national championship.”

That that dream came to a halt a week before the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, where the New West-based Royals held the No. 1-ranking, was a tough pill to swallow.

Entering the PacWest provincial championships three weeks ago, Douglas was on a 10-game winning streak. The squad topped Camosun in the semis and bested frequent foil Vancouver Island 97-89 in the final for the organization’s second B.C. title in three years.

“We played our best basketball when we needed to, and I think that was a sign of the athletes we had in our program,” he said.

Point guard Courtney Anderson enjoyed a standout fourth year with the program, putting up top-10 numbers across the board in offensive categories, averaging 18.9 point per game. The Palestine, Texas native went on to be named the provincial tourney MVP and PacWest Player of the Year. Burnaby brothers Cam and Reese Morris were named to the all-star team, while fellow Royal standouts Dylan Kinley, Shane Toporowski and Bollo Gnahore counted double-digit games on the scoresheet during the semifinal.

Although there will be no 2020 champions, the CCAA did name an All-Canadian team, with Anderson front and centre.  Enevoldson, meanwhile, was chosen the national association’s Men’s Coach of the Year.

“Enevoldson has seen much success since being named head coach at Douglas College,” CCAA men’s basketball convenor Jonathan Lambert stated in a press release. “He has used a well-developed mixture of domestic and international talent to become one of the premier programs in the CCAA.”

In 2018, he guided the team to the CCAA national final, where they fell to Seneca of Ontario.

This year’s roster featured numerous local talents, from Burnaby (the Morrises, Jiordano Khan, Kobe McKnight and Aidan Wilson), Port Coquitlam (Josiah Mastandrea) and Surrey (Kinley). Six-foot-10 post Gnahore arrived at Douglas from Ivory Coast via New Mexico State, while Toporowski was a standout in Kamloops a handful of years ago. Guard Patrick Ryan hails from Belgrade, Montana.

A year ago, primed for a big run, the team was unceremoniously upset in the PacWest final by VIU, so this season started with a bit of redemption as a driving force. Seven players carried that memory into 2019-20.

While there will be no championship celebration, Enevoldson said that so much was gained over nearly a year of preparation and team building.

“I think the biggest thing I learned from the athletes was how much they truly cared about this program, this school and how much they care for each other,” he said. “That sometimes gets lost in it, but they’re going to have life-long memories from this season.

“There were a ton of highlights through the course of the year. We had an incredible season. Winning the provincial championship was the epitome of this group. … I think the big thing was, we got to be No. 1 ranking during the course of the year and ended the season up as No. 1, but knew it could be taken away from us in a heartbeat.”

And at the collegiate level there isn’t ‘always next year,’ the Royals do have the special bond of family to take with them.