By Howard Tsumura, VarsityLetters.ca
It was on one of those recent snow days in the eastern part of the Fraser Valley when a father and his son, both shut-ins for the day, settled together on the couch and watched a basketball game played over a quarter-century ago.
The shorts were actually short. And a lot tighter. The hairstyles reflected the fashion of the day.
Yet despite the obvious contrasts, a comforting axiom remained: the more things change, the more they really do remain the same.
“We were watching one of my games from the provincial championships back in 1991,” begins Greg DeVries, the dad, who was seated with his son Tyus, a senior whom he is coaching this season at Sardis Secondary.
“I was watching myself (playing for Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Bombers), and in my mind I was awesome,” he laughs. “But I was ashamed at how little I was working on the court. Tyus is telling me, ‘Dad, you didn’t follow your shot’ and ‘Dad, you didn’t cut hard there.’ But it’s still uncanny how much the dude looks like me when he is on the court. The only difference is that his intensity and his work ethic is higher, and he’s better than me.”
Together, the pair will bring their best to Langley’s Walnut Grove Secondary on Wednesday as the Sardis Falcons face Coquitlam’s Pinetree Timberwolves in a Fraser Valley Quad-A tournament sudden-elimination clash.
The goal, as it is for the hundreds of teams playing the game at the high school level in B.C., is to make the field of 16 at next months provincial championships.
Yet in the biggest picture possible, some things are more important, like the way in which the game, in nothing more than an instant, has the power to bridge the gap of an entire generation.
Tyus DeVries has grown up in a real basketball family.
Dad Greg, who floated under the radar throughout a high school career in the Kootenays, was recruited by the legendary Don Horwood and helped the Alberta Golden Bears to back-to-back CIS national titles.
Mom Lisa, a former university player herself and a Duncan native who prepped at Cowichan Secondary, met Greg while she was playing for the Alberta Pandas. Greg also coaches younger son Keyan on the Abbotsford Middle School Grade 8 team. Ninth-grade sister Abby is a volleyball player.
And so maybe it’s no surprise that when you ask Tyus about some of his earliest memories in the sport, he quickly references the place he first learned to play the game.
And of course, it wasn’t in his driveway.
“My room has a loft above the bed,” says Tyus, “and attached to the loft is a hoop big enough for a mini-ball. It’s maybe six-and-a-half feet above the ground, but the ceiling is just high enough that I could shoot at it with a normal arc.”
Just like his father Greg did, while shovelling away the frozen white of a Nelson winter, the bedroom basket allowed him the opportunity to get in thousands of reps.
And while Tyus would eventually outgrow the hoop while sprouting to his current height of six-foot-four, he, like his dad before him, developed a penchant for scoring the basketball at a prolific pace.
Greg DeVries was a legendary high school scorer with L.V. Rogers’ aptly-named Bombers.
Your author, in fact, can remember reporting on a game he played against Grand Forks in his senior year in which he scored 82 points.
Still, Tyus isn’t exactly chopped liver.
He’s averaging 30 points, 15 rebounds and six assists on the season. He’s broken 40 points in a game on six occasions this season, including a career-high 47 against Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors and 46 in a two-point loss to MEI in the championship final of the Eagles’ own invitational tournament.
But, his dad’s single-game high seems almost Wilt Chamberlain-like in its majesty.
Says Greg: “Our guys just laugh at how many times I shot the ball that game and they might dream about something like that, but I tell them that they are living in a time where they are playing (Quad-A) in the Fraser Valley and that it’s just not happening.”
“I think about it every time I have a big quarter,” said Tyus. “I scored 18 in the first quarter against MEI, and he looked at me and he smiled. He said ‘You need more than that to score 82.’ It’s unbelievable how much pressure you get after you score 18. I can’t imagine how much you would have to be feeling it to put up 82.”
Of course the playful banter between coach and player is reserved for the special relationship the father has with the son. It’s all part and parcel of why they both love the game so much.
Taking A Chance
Don Horwood was a special coach. Over a six-season span (1972-73 to 1977-78) he led Victoria’s Oak Bay Bays to five championship finals appearances at the sport’s highest tier, winning it all three times (1973, ’74, ’77).
He carried that magic on to the CIS level, heading to Edmonton where his Golden Bears dominated the national scene in the mid-1990s.
Horwood, who had always found a way to recruit under-the-radar talent in B.C., could boast of no better theft than that of Greg DeVries.
“So many people counted me out and often times they count out (players from) the outskirts,” he says. “People don’t get to see us much. But Horwood always tried to recruit the B.C. cast-offs, the guys he knew UVic and UBC wouldn’t pursue. And he had a bunch of us out there.”
And just to show that there can be value attached to an 82-point game, played completely off the radar in the so-called hinterlands of this vast province, DeVries helped Alberta win national titles in both 1994 and ’95, before closing out his collegiate career with a second-place finish in 1996.
And in 1995, he was awarded the Jack Donahue Trophy as the MVP of the CIS national championships. In the 21 seasons that have followed, only four other B.C. players have copped the bauble: Eric Hinrichsen (Victoria ’97), Randy Nohr (St. FX ’00), Philip Scrubb (Carleton ’12, ’15) and Thomas Scrubb (Carleton ’13).
Which leads us back to that snow day on the couch, and enough shared natural traits to suggest that the son is more like the father than the university recruiters might think.
Under The Radar
“My first two years at Alberta, I didn’t play much at all because I was learning,” Greg, now 43, remembers.
“Recently I talked to Don Horwood and I asked him what he saw in me. He said, ‘You came out scoring a ton in high school, you were a little out of your league athletically, but you were fundamentally sound.’
“To me, Tyus is a lot like that. He is a little under the radar, too. He is similar to me in maybe they don’t see the flashy athleticism of a Mason Bourcier (Kelowna), so maybe people are a little hesitant.”
They shouldn’t be.
“We have really talked a lot about determination and attitude,” Greg says. “It’s the thing that can make the biggest difference, believing that nothing is too hard.”
Tyus hiked Mt. Cheam as a fifth-grader and this past summer, the entire family cycled from Jasper to Banff.
“You put your mind to something and if you just keep pedaling you will get there,” Greg says, the metaphor fully intended.
The Sardis Falcons, a No. 17 seed in the Fraser Valley tournament, are, as their number indicates, an underdog.
But like the rest of the schools with dreams of playing at the provincial tournament, they will let each game along the journey speak for itself.
And regardless of whether or not they make the hallowed final field of 16 which gathers in March at the Langley Events Centre, they will have shared in an incredible journey.
B.C. high school basketball’s fathers and sons have bridged gaps in this game since 1945, a span now into its third full generation.
And like the DeVries, each pair has a story to tell about the most important and powerful years in their shared lives.
This story was originally published Feb. 14 on varsityletters.ca. It has been republished with the author’s consent.