Tenth-grade Rupertite basketball star Justin McChesney and the rest of the Charles Hays Rainmakers heard the same four words before every game from coach Mel Bishop.
“We’re in the hunt.”
“After we won that first game, people started realizing [what we were about],” said McChesney in front of an auditorium full of students, parents, fans and teachers.
The ‘underdog’, 14th-ranked Rainmakers listened to Bishop’s sage advice and before long, they found themselves in the senior boys’ AAA championship game versus Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Knights. The Rainmakers would later fall 53-38 to the fourth-ranked squad and claim silver.
It was a process following the Rainmaker’s run, as the parents and school administration found out. Some followed on Twitter and some followed their text messages. However they kept track of the team, the city rallied around the group of boys that, for one season operated as a singular unit.
Indeed, the Rainmakers’ secret weapon is parent support and the support of local businesses and Charles Hays administration.
“The community support overall was unbelievable,” said Bishop.
“Some (parents) have travelled, but it’s more the fundraising. All that stuff is huge.”
And the unity of the players may be what coach Bishop is most proud of. Chemistry isn’t something you can teach. It’s something intangible. It comes naturally, or it doesn’t at all.
Sitting at the front of the auditorium at Charles Hays, the boys were like brothers. Legs dangling over the cafe-torium benches and (for some) hair overflowing beneath their caps, the team was war-battered, and they had gone through it together.
“We’re a multi-cultural team, I mean everybody gets along,” said Bishop.
“We have great chemistry, it’s just tremendous. Everybody likes each other and that’s half the battle.”
Bishop would know. The coach is in his 34th year, and he’s seen it all. With this group, it was all about managing expectations.
“I had a good feeling about the team,” said the bench boss.
“During the pre-season, the kids worked really hard. They were in the weight room lots and a lot of guys committed to the training.”
The Rainmakers knocked off the tournament’s No. 3, 6 and 7 seeds on their way to the final. But the resources and funds aren’t always plentiful for the Rainmakers to match up versus their Lower Mainland competitors. Geography makes getting the team down to the area harder than most of the schools in the province.
Part of the success was that during the tournament, Bishop experimented by placing the 6’9″ McChesney at different positions. To become a better all-around player at the next level of basketball, Bishop put McChesney at the four position, which is the team’s power forward. McChesney adapted to the changes during the season, but as the tournament winded down, the coach gave McChesney the freedom to cut to the middle..
“All big guys want to be point guards right,” said Bishop. “That’s just the way it is. But his overall skill level is really improving (like) his perimiter work.”
With most of the core returning for next year’s team, it’ll be hard to top 2014’s roller-coaster ride.
“I think it’s going to be a good year,” said McChesney.
“You know we’re confident. We know what it takes.”