Hoop season is upon us and the Merritt Secondary School (MSS) are proud to showcase their young talent to the community. Every year MSS hosts a basketball tournament at home and this year is their biggest one yet, a 16 team invitational for the Sr. Boys Basketball teams across the province. 

The Eagle’s Perch Tournament is a 16 team tournament that was hosted by MSS from January 19 to January 21. Being the biggest tournament for basketball they have ever done, Eagle’s Perch took place across three gyms, NVIT, MSS, and Lower Nicola Band School.

The budding basketball community in Merritt, populated by the players and coaches of the team wanted to use the big tournament as a platform to promote basketball to the Nicola Valley. This was further supported by their home opener, where MSS invited elementary classes from all over the Nicola Valley to watch their home team perform. 

“We always start off our opening game in front of the elementary kids in the Nicola Valley,” said Leroy Slanzi, coach of the MSS Panthers. “We packed the bleachers with about 400 kids from local elementary schools and our goal is to promote the sport of basketball within the community. Hopefully we get a lot of kids out playing basketball because everybody knows playing sports keeps them out of trouble.” 

Dozens of children from the different elementary schools in the valley packed the gym for an afternoon game of basketball. The young students were very excited to watch the Panthers, wearing the home team’s colours, some with face paints, while others holding up signs and noise makers. 

Izaiah Reyes/Herald

“The Sr. Boys were really excited to have the kids at their opener because they want to mentor them and inspire them to take up basketball,” Slanzi noted.  “This is a sport that we want to stay and grow in the community.”

“We were all excited to have the elementary kids come watch us play,” said Panthers Guard Cruz Slanzi. “I remember watching my coach Evan Sahota play for MSS back when I was in elementary school and now for me to be one of the guys that can inspire the next generation of talent in the city makes me speechless.” 

The game was indeed inspirational, as the Panthers started off the tournament with a statement win against Princeton, highlighted further by guard Nathan Willey’s 51 point performance. The Panthers continued their momentum reaching as far as the championship game, but unfortunately falling short against the eventual champion, Mount Boucherie Secondary.  

As of now, kids have the opportunity to play basketball through their elementary school’s basketball program, or by joining the Merritt Mavericks Basketball Club. Last year the club expanded by adding a U12 team to their program, and this year they look to continue the expansion with a U10 team addition.

“It would be nice to see the age division expanding like in the city where we see five, six, and seven year-olds playing,” said Slanzi. “Right now we’ve got close to 70 boys playing basketball for their school teams. My guess is that there’s going to be over 100 boys wanting to play in the future.”