“Go Cubs Go!” thundered through the main gym at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre as the hometown team at the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) closed in on another Intermediate Division title.
The Cubs, who won the championship in 2020 and made it to the final in 2022 came into the 2023 edition of ANBT as the second seed. They cruised through the winners bracket, soundly thumping Massett 91 – 71, Gitxsan (Hazelton) 86 – 53 and Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) 75 – 52 to secure their berth in the championship game on Saturday (Feb. 18).
The final was no different.
While Skidegate took an early lead, by the middle of the first quarter, Rupert was ahead and would stay there for the remainder of the game. Skidegate managed to keep it fairly close for nearly 30 minutes, but by the end of the third quarter, Rupert had started to pull away, steadily padding their lead through the beginning of the fourth.
A mid-quarter run of eight unanswered points basically sealed the deal for the Cubs as the lead increased to 75 – 57.
Skidegate would close that 18-point gap to 12, but two free throws at the end would give Rupert the championship with a final score of 81 – 67.
Last year, Rupert had a much tougher path to the final having to weave their way through the elimination bracket only to be beaten by the red-hot Burnaby Chiefs by an almost identical score to this year’s final, 81 – 68.
“Redemption, it feels great,” said Coach Gage Ladouceur. “We felt like we should have won last year, but again, Burnaby is a really good team. So, no disrespect to them, they deserved their championship last year, they worked very hard, but I felt like our guys worked as hard and were just as good, but unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.”
The coach attributed yesterday’s win to defence in the second half.
“We were a little stagnant on defence in the first half, but the second half the boys decided to wake up and they came out and started playing some pressure defence and they rebounded very well so I think that was the biggest thing.”
He also acknowledged playing on home court was an advantage.
“Absolutely, those fans were amazing, having them right behind us, all the encouragement you need having your friends and family behind you like that.”
And it was especially sweet the banner will be displayed in the building in which the tournament is played, he said.
“I can’t wait to put that banner up.”
Throughout the week, there was little question, if the Cubs were to claim the title, who would be the tournament MVP.
Rylan Adams put up 132 points in four games and was the top scorer for his team in three of them. But, perhaps more importantly, he played with intensity at both ends of the court throughout the week inspiring his teammates to do the same.
“I have a very great group of family and friends, the whole team’s my family and we swore at the end of last year’s finals we were going to be back here and we’re going to [expleted] win and that’s what we made happen,” he said.
The win did not come without adversity, he added.
“We had to fight from the beginning. Our star point guard was out for the last two games. We had that on our backs the whole entire time. I had a grandmother that passed away recently. I knew I wasn’t going to lose no matter what happened. I’m playing for my family, I’m playing for my villages and for all of my fans here, it’s an amazing tournament.”
While absolutely thrilled with winning the championship, the personal MVP honour was barely an afterthought.
“I don’t care,” he said adamantly. “That doesn’t matter to me… all I care about is winning. My family is happy, my boys are happy, I’m happy.”
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