April 9, 2014, Victoria (ISN) – A rainbow of jerseys streamed across the gym floor with bounces of basketballs, squeaks of sneakers, and teenage voices echoing off the walls.

Written by Lachlan Ross

The 2014 Passion Sports All Island Invite Camp athletes and coaches. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

Orange, black, baby blue, fire truck red, forest green, royal blue, and purple. Passion Sports always brings colour to the court and the sixth annual All Island Invite Camp was no exception.

For competitive athletes, there’s nothing better than taking on the best players around. That’s why Passion Sports brings Vancouver Island’s top Grade eight to 11’s to one gym. The April 4-6 camp at St. Michaels University School involved athlete’s dedicating their Friday night and weekend to skills, drills, and games following the motto of Passion Sports – I Work Harder.

Oak Bay’s Myka Tang drives by fellow Bay Jaden Touchie. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

“All these guys are right in that pivotal moment where they can really dedicate themselves for the next one or two years and make a run at playing college,” says Passion Sports coach and owner, Greg Wallis.

Alongside Wallis, who was a standout forward for Simon Fraser University from 2006-09, current University of Victoria Vikes Terrell Evans, Chris McLaughlin, Mack Roth, and John Waldu joined Vancouver Island University’s Liam Horne as coaches. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join this exceptional group of players after finishing my second year playing for Camosun College.

We each coached a team of eight in the camp tournament games and mentored them throughout the skills sessions. Heading the morning drill sessions before the afternoon matchups, were different guest coaches – University of Victoria Assistant Coach, Craig Behan; Vancouver Island University Head Coach, Matt Kuzminski; and Camosun College Head Coach, Scot Cuachon.

Coaches Liam Horne, John Woldu, Terrell Evans, Greg Wallis, Chris McLaughlin, Mack Roth, and Lachlan Ross pose for the camera. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

Wallis’ goal for the guest coaches is to give the players a chance to associate their faces with the local college and university programs. This also helps the schools from a recruiting standpoint, seeing the best kids from each age group together in one gym. Being able to quickly observe how hard they work and who stands out allows coaches to plan for future years while showing prospective varsity athletes their institution is a good option.

“Today is defence, so not the sexiest thing of the camps,” Coach Kuzminski told me before taking the court, “but it’s been big for us the last two years.” His VIU team has had one of the top defences in Canada’s college league the past two seasons, smothering teams with their communication and rotations.

I found the opportunity to hear from the guest coaches helpful too. Playing for a college or university team, you are learning your coach’s playing principles and strategies six to seven days a week. It seemed like each player-coach’s response to the guest coach from their own school was like getting called into the principal’s office on summer break, but I think each of the guys enjoyed fresh perspectives from the other sessions.

Gordon Head’s Caelan Scott strips Oak Bay’s Mark Piazza. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

When our turn came to coach, we each had our own method. I found myself taking on more of a do as I say, not as I did approach, harping on defence. At my teams’ age, my idea of good defence was hitting a three pointer and only giving up a layup. That’s what is humbling about having the opportunity to coach now. It allows me to teach principles or attitudes I have learned in my 20’s to players five years earlier than I embraced them.

It’s also fun now being at an age where I notice changes in the game since I was first learning it. One thing that really impresses me about these younger age groups is the abilities big men have. This next generation is taught just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you have to take hook shots and guard posts. Several of the tallest players in the camp stepped out and knocked down threes, then guarded wings.

Coach Greg Wallis wills his team to the 2014 Championship. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

After an evening and two days of battling on the court – and for us coaches, from the sidelines – Sunday afternoon saw Coach Wallis’ baby blue team take him to his first All Island Invite Camp Championship. Coach Horne and his red team – who defeated my purple squad in a semi-final heartbreaker – put up a tough effort against a stacked team Wallis in the 38-35 final. After an early lead for team Horne, Wallis’ boys – who should’ve been called the “Blue Bombers” with every one of them able to hoist long bombs – were led by a Jatin Chauhan barrage of three-pointers that earned him finals Most Valuable Player and the championship. Team Horne launched a game-tying three-point shot of their own at the buzzer, but it didn’t drop.

Following many, many discussions on strategies and predictions between the coaches through texts, Facebook, phone calls, and conversations before, during, and after each day at camp, it’s over. Coach Greg Wallis and his baby blue team takes the 2014 All Island Invite Camp and the bragging rights that come with it – keep lookout for Coach Wallis to produce some kind of customized t-shirt that lets us all know who’s on top until next year.

The 2014 All Island Invite Camp All-Stars with their coaches. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

Camp All-Star awards went to Isaac Dellabough, Myka Tang, Jaden Touchie, Tom Weatherby, Jake Wilmott, and Aoi Yamaguchi, while Noah Charles took home camp MVP. The weekend three-point competition went to Grade eight Caelan Scott who nailed 19 of 25 shots followed by the deep-three “money ball”. In the point guard skills course, speedster Jacob Dinh handled the obstacles a split second quicker than the competition. The defensive gauntlet saw SMUS very own Jason Scully tossing shots back at defenders left, right, and centre, putting a stamp on the victory. And finally, Zack Williams jumped over Caelan Scott to win the dunk comp – not much more to be said about that one!

Woodlands’ Zack Williams throws down a windmill during the dunk comp. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

While the camp’s individual awards are celebrated, Coach Wallis ensures they are put in perspective. Having your name called out for a photo and some free Passion Sports gear is great, but continuing to improve from there – whether motivated by winning an award or being snubbed for one – is the goal.

Coach Horne, who attended the camp in Grade 10 and 11 before receiving a scholarship to Vancouver Island University this past year, says the message the Invite Camp brings is, “You might be the best player in your school, but you’re not the best in the city or the province. It keeps you striving hard.”

Dover Bay’s Max Reed shoots over Bryce Olsen. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

As a camp coach, you never know if kids are going to apply the skills or lessons learned that week or weekend to their training schedule at home. You don’t know what their teammates or coaches are like. Do their teammates buy into team basketball or does their coach harp on the little details? Those seemingly insignificant differences in discipline will one day separate that player and the guy trying out beside them at a college or university identification camp.

I hope my boys embrace their experience over the weekend and pass something onto their high school teammates. Maybe they won’t all remember, but if one or two players from my team go back to their school and impart a lesson or an attitude or a story that I in some way helped them own, it potentially impacts five, ten, twenty kids. That feeling is different than anything you get on the court as a player and it’s why I can’t wait to come back next year.

Lambrick Park’s Austin Somers shoots during the three-point competition. Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )

“We just want to show guys that they’re really right in the thick of things,” says Wallis. “If they really push through these next two or three years, they’ve got a chance of playing after high school.”

For more basketball stories from Lachlan Ross see:

Discovering Passion in Sport


Basketball border hopping


Controlling the Court


Is Canadian Basketball Hooped?