Kelowna, BC – Every sports fan remembers the undefeated New England Patriots, a heavy Super Bowl favourite, that fell to the New York Giants early in 2009, but for members of the UBC Okanagan basketball family the spring of 2009 is remembered for another underdog taking down an undefeated foe – the 2008-09 Heat men’s basketball team.
On March 7th, 2009, a Saturday night in the Capilano University gymnasium, the UBC Okanagan Heat put away the undefeated and heavily favoured VIU Mariners with a sensational fourth quarter comeback that led to a 66-60 victory that crowned them BCCAA Provincial champions.
This was the first and still only championship banner captured by a team playing for OC, OUC, and now UBCO in men’s basketball and the members of that special squad will be celebrated this Saturday night on the same floor these champions ran so many games and practices on.
In his fourth season, head coach Darren Semeniuk led the championship squad, but with a fresh look that year featuring seven first-year players, and not a single starter returning from a men’s team that played in back-to-back national championship tournaments.
The roster (also listed in the table below) was: Aron Balakrishnan, Taylen Busch, Jon Christian, Ryan Fahandeg, Dean Kmyta, David Mackay, Steve Morrison, Simon Pelland, Brock Raddatz, Alex Roth, Chris Spencer, Jeff Van Dolah, Jon Zaleski.
Semeniuk had three assistant coaches: Kyle Graves, Cary Mellon, and Adrian Neale; Art Fraser was the athletic trainer that accompanied the team to North Vancouver for the championship.
A suffocating 2-3 zone defense was the catalyst for the championship win for UBCO, who had been soundly defeated by these Mariners twice just six weeks earlier in Kelowna. The Heat trailed at the half of the gold medal game by just a single point (33-32). It was a rough third quarter for UBCO where they scored just 10 points and allowed the Mariners jump ahead with an 8-point lead into the final frame (50-42).
Incredibly, UBCO responded, led by tournament MVP Ryan Fahandag, who potted nine of his game-high 24 points in the final frame to lead to the comeback championship win. Heat forwards John Zaleski and Steve Morrison joined Fahandeg as tournament All-Stars from UBCO.
Exciting as the final was, the Heat needed overtime and a tremendous last second play to make it to the championship game. The semi-final against Langara on Friday was also exhilarating for the Heat, as the Falcons, who had also dropped UBCO twice earlier in the year came back from a 14 point deficit against the Heat, tying the game up late in regulation, that went into overtime after a Taylen Busch three at the buzzer just rimmed out.
In overtime, with the game tied, the Heat called a timeout after a huge charge drawn by Steve Morrison earned the ball back for UBCO, in the timeout Semeniuk drew a play up for Fahandeg where he was to get a back screen and a clear out on the right-hand side. Fahandeg took the ball hard to the rim and put the shot up, but after the Falcon’s All-Canadian 6’8″ post Clint Wickham had slid over to help. With Wickham in help, Fahandeg’s shot went high over the rim but Jon Zaleski was open on the weak side and put-back the rebound for the buzzer-beating win (69-67).
Following the championship, Semeniuk told Warren Henderson of the Kelowna Capital News that “Somehow the guys found a way to do it. It was an amazing effort. I think we’re still in a little shock.”
Touched on but not necessarily covered by coach Semeniuk in his talk to Warren Henderson about the team and how they found a way to do it was how hard that team worked after losing those games to VIU earlier in the season. That as a collective the team came together and upped the intensity every game and practice to win that title. This effort and the championship created a tight group of teammates, and a group worth honouring.
UBC Okanagan handled the Douglas Royals 74-63 in the quarter-finals.