Regardless of whether he plays an instrument or not, it's pretty safe to say that Jesse Crookes is Port Coquitlam's newest rock star. The Grade 12 Terry Fox Secondary student hit the proverbial shot of his life Saturday night to give Fox a last second, come-from-behind 75-74 win over the home town Walnut Grove Gators.
In the process of doing so, Crookes helped Fox secure its first B.C. AAA boys basketball championship since 1994, thanks in part to the 10-foot jumper he hit with less than four seconds to play.
"In my head, I was thinking to myself, 'OK, I know I don't have much time here, so I'm just going to take the shot myself,'" Crookes recalled Monday. "I remember driving, pulling up and shooting and I had no idea what would come after that. But it went in. It was crazy. What an amazing feeling."
For a club ranked 10th headed into the big dance, the fact that they were even in the finals came as a shock to some. On top of that underdog billing, the Ravens found themselves trailing by as many as nine points with under three minutes to go. They rallied with 10 straight to take a late lead before Walnut Grove pulled ahead by one with under 10 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
Cue up the timeout for instruction, and a replica of PoCo's favourite son for inspiration.
"We had a brass trophy of Terry Fox that we all touched when we came out of the timeout as a sort of good luck kind of thing," Crookes said.
The play was initially drawn up for Daniel Collins to shoot a three from beyond the arc, a shot that ultimately didn't fall. Tanner Moss grabbed that crucial rebound and dished it to Crookes, who then faked a shot, lost his defender momentarily and dropped what proved to be the game winner.
"It was really surreal. I felt like it was a dream at that time, because I couldn't believe I actually just did that," Crookes said. "I've had tons of people texting me and congratulating me. People I don't even know have been e-mailing me and congratulating me. It's been crazy."
On top of Crookes' 16 points on the night, Fox got a team-high 17 points from tournament MVP and first team all-star Ryan Sclater, who made eight-ofnine field goal attempts. Collins also dropped 13, while Trevor Casey netted 10.
"It's pretty crazy. I realize that I probably wasn't the best player at the tournament, but I guess I won [the MVP] because I was leading the winning team," Sclater said. "I have to thank all my teammates, because if we don't win that tournament there's no way I win that trophy. It really comes down a total team effort for me to be recognized like that."
The fact that Fox had four players in double digits in Saturday's final is an apt reflection of the makeup of the team - getting it done by committee while maintaining a fighting spirit all season long.
"I attribute that resiliency to the character of our guys," said Fox co-coach Steve Hanson. "Some days as a coach, you don't know exactly why your team lost, but you have to get back at it and find little things to get better at. Our guys were always back in the gym on time, ready to go and wanting to get better."
Fox punched its ticket to the final after a 73-64 win over White Rock Christian Academy on Friday night. In that game, Crookes posted a team-high 18 points, including a trio of three pointers, while Casey and Moss contributed 15 apiece.
"Our focus was to get the ball inside," Hanson said. "We got the ball inside, but when the ball came back outside, Jesse [Crookes] and Tanner [Moss] were just on fire."
Perhaps the biggest shock en route to the final was Fox's commanding 66-30 dismantling of Pitt Meadows, a club that bested the Ravens in both previous encounters during the regular season and playoffs.
In those two previous contests, Sclater committed a total of 25 turnovers - on Thursday, he had four, on top of a teamhigh 21 points.
"We focused so much in our week of practices coming up to the tournament on just pure execution," Sclater said. "We've had turnover problems throughout the year in all of our losses, and that was our biggest improvement coming in to the tournament. We cut them way down."
That winning feeling was first fostered by a tournament-opening 73-52 win over Oak Bay, a game in which Sclater scored 22 points on a nine-of-12 showing from the field.
To even get to that point seemed distant at the beginning of the season, as the program had lost longtime coach Rich Chambers and stalwart graduates Scott Hind, Matt Trimble and Bret MacDonald.
"We were an underdog team in every way possible. There wasn't much expected of us and to get back to the B.C.s was going to be a challenge. But we just kept fighting," Hanson said. "We have a lot of guys who are just dogs: they fight and they scrap for everything they have. They're underdogs in life in many ways too. A lot of these guys probably won't go on to play any basketball in college, so this may have been their last game in a lot of their lives. They were such a team."