Members of the Vancouver Dragons basketball team with the Minor League Basketball Association’s Northwest Conference championship trophy Saturday (June 30) at Tamanawis Secondary’s gym in Surrey. (Photo: facebook.com/DragonsVanBasketball)

Dragons home in Surrey for pro league’s ‘Final Four’ basketball playoffs

MLBA teams to battle at Panorama Ridge Secondary gym this weekend

By Trevor Beggs, contributor

If only the Vancouver Grizzlies were this good in their inaugural season.

In the first year of existence for Minor League Basketball Association (MLBA), the lone team from Canada remains in contention for the title. The Vancouver Dragons take their 12-1 record into the North American League Championship this weekend at Panorama Ridge Secondary in Surrey, with four conference winners battling for league supremacy.

The Dragons began their season at Trinity Western’s David E. Enarson Centre but later moved to Tamanawis due to scheduling conflicts.

Now, another prominent basketball school in Surrey gets to host the league’s Final Four playoffs.

It hasn’t mattered where the Dragons play, because they just keep finding ways to win while posting a plethora of points. The Dragons also have a secret to their success, something that all other MLBA teams lack.

“When we started the season, we had an American coach (Don Sim) bringing in American guys,” said Jason Stevens, the team’s media relations co-ordinator. “We made a coaching change midseason (to Dikran Zabunyan) and brought in more Canadian content.”

“Most of the guys on our team are Canadian, and it has really worked out for us.”

• RELATED STORY: Idea for Surrey stadium bounced by Vancouver Dragons basketball team.

The Dragons roster is full of guys who excel in their roles, but Vancouver native Levon Kendall has been their star player. The six-foot-10 forward has helped the team score an average of 117 points per game this season.

“He should win MVP this season,” Stevens said. “If he doesn’t, we’ll be shocked.”

All the players in the MLBA have played college basketball, but there is some potential NBA talent on the court.

“The MLBA is a developmental league,” Stevens said. “We’re supportive of our players and we want to get them to the next level.”

According to Stevens, the only guy who stood a chance at knocking off Kendall as league MVP was his teammate Usama Zaid. The Vancouver Island University product, the 2017 Canadian College basketball player of the year, was gone for a chunk of the season, working out with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Even without one of the league’s best talents, the Dragons continued to dominate. They suffered their only loss of the season against the Quad City Flames back on May 26. They avenged that loss by defeating the Flames 120-112 last weekend, effectively punching their ticket to the final four.

They now look to become the league’s first champion on home soil, as they face off against Arkansas Bobcats, Oklahoma City Outlaws and Huntsville Force.

The Dragons head into the weekend as favourites to win it all. Stevens likes his team’s chances of taking home the championship, but they’ll have to get through Arkansas first, starting at 6 p.m. Saturday (July 7) at Panorama Ridge school gym, 13220 64th Ave., Surrey. The other semifinal matches Huntsville with Oklahoma City at 8 p.m.

“Their owner guaranteed a championship, so that probably means we’re going to win,” Stevens joked.

If the Dragons do win on Saturday, they will play for the championship on Sunday afternoon (July 8) starting at 3 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling the Dragons at 778-591-5989. Seats are $10 VIP courtside or $5 General Admission, or get a weekend pass for all three games for $15 VIP courtside or $10 General Admission.

Visit the Vancouver Dragons website (vancouverdragons.com) for more information. Details are also posted at mlbahoops.com.

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