A quartet of Tillsonburg Gemini junior boys basketball players looked back - and forward - Saturday evening near the entrance to Tillsonburg's Community Gym.
"Caleb's dad is like right here," said Jack Demaree, pointing to a photo of the 1986-87 Tillsonburg Gemini senior boys WOSSA championship basketball team.
The framed picture did indeed feature a younger, perhaps a touch svelter, but certainly recognizable John Vermeeren, a spectator for Tillsonburg's Junior Classic tournament victory Saturday evening inside the community gym; as well as notables including current Guelph Gryphons men's basketball head coach Chris O'Rourke.
"And Trent's uncle Deano (Dean Keba)," interjected Trent Sinden's dad Dave.
Glendale players on the court Saturday have a familial connection with more than one picture hanging in the school's walk of photo fame, and the link to Tillsonburg's storied basketball past they represent. But apart from the fact, like their '86/87 predecessors, the junior class of 2013-13 added a Classic title to their resume, Saturday evening's dominating 75-42 victory over a solid London Laurier opponent was more an unofficial coming-out party for a new generation of Gemini athletes whose story is very much about the future.
If one happened to catch Saturday evening's game, the fact one player combines a quick and powerful first, and subsequent steps to the basket with an ability to knock down the three became quickly apparent; as did that another lanky one is living up to his anticipated arrival - solid from beyond the arc, combined with the ability to cut past a defender for a decent vertical in the lane, shifting 90 degrees in midair before squaring up perfectly for a smooth six-footer; that the backcourt handles and distributes the ball effectively, are 'hounds' for errant passes and push the ball upcourt aggressively, heads up and eyes wide open; and there's enough size to grow into senior-level rebounding.
As much as the easily-noticed attributes however is the depth and quality of coach Mike Demaree's rotation, a sense the players have played enough to develop an instinctive feel for the game, and enough together to create a sense of fraternity and shared purpose. The latter three factors are attributable in part to the fact a majority has played together at the OBA level since Grade 3.
"I think we have pretty good chemistry," said Gemini Steven Gilvesy, who had 21 points (including a crowd-encouraged trey) to lead all players in Saturday's final. "We've been playing together for like seven years.
"We back each other up a lot," he added, in response to a question about the team's depth. "Because once again, we know each other and when someone does something good, we all get into it."
Grade 9 rookie Jack Demaree, who has been around the Gemini basketball court since the ball was as big as he was, currently stands at 6'2", weighing in around 150 pounds 'soaking wet' had 17 in the final, including four three-point field goals; cousin Ben Demaree had 14 points, 10 in Tillsonburg's first quarter as a hot-shooting Laurier team stayed within three (trailing 16-13), 'Uncle Deano's nephew' Trent added seven, Kieran Rangel, Henry Vandebroeck and Gray Sinden four apiece and Colin Lasook and Wes Hopper two each. Stephen MacLean had 15 for Laurier.
The Gemini had opened the draw with a 63-16 victory over Woodstock St. Mary's Warriors. Jack Demaree dropped home an even dozen, Ben Demaree 10, Gilvesy eight, Trent Sinden and Caleb Vermeeren six apiece, Rangel five, Vandenbroeck, Lasook and Gray Sinden four each and Josh Verschueren three.
Tillsonburg cruised into the final with a 72-22 semi-final win over the Woodstock Huron Park Pups in which Gilvesy had 12 points, Trent Sinden 10, Hopper nine, Vandebroeck eight, Rangel six, Jack and Ben Demaree five each, Vermeeren four, Verschueren three and guard Brock Hussey one free throw.
"Everyone contributes, that's the nice thing," credited coach Demaree. "Everyone gets to play and everyone does their part. There's times we lean on some guys more than others, but for the most part, everyone contributes."
Tillsonburg has a pair of losses this season, but as the Classic scores indicate, the Gemini have had to look further afield to find them: an eight-member loss to Windsor Herman in the third-place game in that community, following a three-point loss to Windsor CCH in the same tournament's semi-final. In that game, the Gemini fell behind early against intense pressure, before adapting for a second-half comeback that closed the final differential to three points.
"A great game, an amazing game," said coach Demaree. "We played our way back into the game and had a chance at the end, we just came up a little short.
"It's like anything, the harder it is, the more you work and the more you get out of it."
"No one likes to lose, but you learn a lot," added Hussey. "Makes you practice harder."
Saturday's final was a truer test than anything leading up to it. The Gemini opened up a 12-point halftime lead on a 20-11 second-quarter run before effectively taking control of the game with a 20-9 advantage through the third. Laurier battled to the final buzzer however, continuing to knock down its shots through an entertaining and competitive tourney final.
"It's better to play hard teams," said Jack Demaree. "It's more competitive, more fun."
"They're good shooters, that's what got us," credited Hussey. "This game was a lot better than the other ones, more of a challenge, which is good - makes you play better."
Comparing eras is a tricky thing: a majority of the '86/87 senior boys came through the Dan Mahony Monsignor O'Neil 'basketball factory' and played in a much more broadly competitive league. But the development of an OFSAA-level high school hoops team through a community OBA program is a blueprint successfully proven by Mike Bossy with a talented group of female athletes. This year's junior boys aren't there yet, but both the 'big' and 'little' basketball things on display Saturday night indicate they are on the right path.
"I'm hoping, I'm hoping," coach Demaree said, noting it can be tougher to sustain a program, numbers wise, in a smaller community, but the Classic victory was certainly an encouraging sign of where they are. "I'm happy for them," he concluded. "They are good kids, they've put a lot of effort in and work extremely hard - it's nice to see them get results."