Braves Crowned Senior Basketball Champions!

Posted on 02/20/2024

By Larry Moko
Brebeuf coach Jae Dunphy’s first thought after winning the 2023-24 senior boys’ high school basketball championship was about getting a haircut.

It’s one he says isn’t particularly necessary or wanted at this time.

“At one of our practices around Christmas when we were 2-5,” Dunphy explained, “one of our players who is an aspiring barber (Stifan Markos) said, ‘Sir, if we win the championship can we cut your hair?’

“I said ‘no problem, I’ll let you do it for the morning video announcements,’ which I run.”

Well, it’s trim time. The St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves captured the league title at a jam-packed St. John Henry Newman gym Friday with a 53-48 victory over the defending champion Cardinals.

“Now I’m in for it,” Dunphy said with a grin.

Brebeuf struggled at the beginning of the season, losing its first three and five of seven. But since then, including the Western University tournament, the red–hot Braves have won 12 of 13.

It was Brebeuf’s first Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic title in the sport since 2019.

Second-place Newman took a 38-36 lead into the fourth quarter. The Braves went on a 9-0 run to open the fourth, however, when they sank seven consecutive free throws and got a steal-layup basket by Raef Calura.

Newman clawed back with a couple of clutch three-point baskets by Markus Palermo, but Kevahn Taylor and Calura combined to sink three more foul shots in the final 30 seconds to cap the scoring.

“Going into the Christmas break we just hadn’t meshed well and committed to the habits we needed on the defensive side,” Dunphy said. “It’s sweet to get this one.”

Calura described the start to the season for the Braves as “rocky for sure. But we came together as a group.”

Taylor was the top scorer for third-place Brebeuf. He netted 19 points. Omaree Francis followed with 16 and Calura chipped in with 14.

For the Cardinals, Palermo finished with 15 points. Alex DiFrancesco contributed 12 and Lucas Barresi added 11.

“There were no easy baskets today,” the Braves coach said. We knew we would have to make everything count against a team like Newman that plays defence like they do.

“Anything that feels like a 2-on-1 advantage can turn into a 2-on-3 because of how hard they compete to get back.”

According to Dunphy, the veteran leadership and on-court communication skills of Taylor and Calura kept the team composed in stressful moments.

“Omaree was the lightning rod for us,” he said. “His energy carried us through.”

In the free-throw department, Brebeuf connected on 18 of 22, while Newman was 6-for-9.

“I thought our defence was solid,” Cardinals coach Andrew Sergi said. “But when great players make great plays you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”

The Cardinals' record during the regular schedule and playoffs this season was 14-3.

“It was a great job by coach Dunphy and his team," Sergi said. "They are deserving champions. In the playoffs, on the road, they beat St. Thomas More, Cathedral and us. They actually repeated what we did last year.”

Sergi said Dunphy deserves credit for not letting the Braves get discouraged in the early months.  “He kept them believing they could achieve. And they did.”

Brebeuf advances to a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference semifinal on Feb. 21 against the Frank Hayden Huskies. That contest will be in Burlington.

Other Brebeuf players on the roster include Isaiah Patrois-Holding, Keen Fleming, Liam Begley, Ryan Mpiana, Alan Yassin, Alessio DiGregorio, Kenzo Joaquim, Evan Rogerson, Mohammad Al-Khamassi, Trandon Durodola and Joey Nsenda.

In other basketball finals Friday, the first-place Bishop Ryan Celtics edged Brebeuf, 53-52, in junior and the first-place Cathedral Gaels took top honours in novice, 67-54, over Newman.