A pair of shoes was all it took to get Elijah Hillis-Gold hooked on basketball.
Six years later, he has done pretty well.
So well, in fact, that he’ll be taking his game — and his shoes — to Burnaby to play NCAA basketball for the Simon Fraser Clan next season.
And it all started with a pair of shoes.
“I started in Grade 6 . . . I really liked the shoes,” says Hillis-Gold, with a laugh. “The flashy shoes — I got the LeBrons. They were suede with a strap.”
Those shoes started quite a trip for Hillis-Gold, a senior point guard for the South Kamloops Titans, who opened their season by going 1-2 at their home Big Kahuna Classic tournament on the weekend. South Kam will next play on Dec. 13-16, when it heads to Calgary for tournament.
Hillis-Gold is an intense player, so you know he isn’t thinking about next season these days. But there definitely is an advantage to having the decision made early.
“It’s a huge relief,” he says. “Now I’m just focusing on my grades and my team.”
Although Hillis-Gold, who stands 5-foot-11, can play either of the guard positions, he would prefer to be in a passing role, like he was with Team B.C. over the summer. With the Titans, he plays the point, but also is called upon to score lots.
“I see myself as more of a point guard,” says Hillis-Gold, who turns 17 on Saturday. “On the provincial team, I played more of a passing role. With this team, it’s a little different, because we don’t have as many options, but I prefer to be a pure point guard.”
Hillis-Gold, who plans to study science, isn’t the first hoopster to make his way from South Kam to SFU — he’s following in the footsteps of guard John Bantock, who graduated from the Titans in 2009 and still plays with the Clan. Bantock being there actually was a factor in Hillis-Gold’s decision to go to Burnaby.
“John Bantock went there and I know him — that helps,” says Hillis-Gold. “It’s a really good academic school, and that was a big part (of the decision). That’s the biggest thing, and I get to play in the NCAA.”
The Titans look to be a competitive team this season, even if they aren’t the deepest team in the province.
A lot of their success will depend on the play of three players — Hills-Gold, feisty forward Jacob Adams and Grade 10 guard Reid Sellars.
In a 79-63 victory over the Pitt Meadows Marauders on Saturday at the Tournament Capital Centre, they showed their best. Hillis-Gold ended with 34 points, mixing some hot shooting with aggressive drives to the basket.
“He’s a great player, a great leader, and he listens,” says Titans head coach Tim Unaegbu. “He sees what happens so well . . . so I give him the free wheel. I trust his judgment.”
Adams plays basketball like the standout football player he is — a bulldog, not many people are going to win a battle against him inside the paint. Adams had 21 points and 15 rebounds against the Marauders.
“You can’t teach effort, and that’s what he has,” Unaegbu says. “I say, ‘Hey Jake, this is what you have to do,’ and he goes out and does it. This guy is our captain . . . he is a person you love to coach.”
Sellars, despite being a youngster, can put up the points. He’s starting in Grade 10, just as Hillis-Gold did two seasons ago.
“Grade 10, starting for a senior team, that’s huge,” Unaegbu says. “He can really shoot it.”
The biggest thing with this team, says Unaegbu, a former basketball and soccer player with the TRU WolfPack, is effort.
The Titans didn’t exactly show it in a season-opening loss to the Kelowna Owls on Thursday, and got better in a loss to the tough North Vancouver-Handsworth Royals on Friday. Against Pitt Meadows, the effort was there, and so was the result.
“We were up 25 when I took my starters off — I’m so happy,” Unaegbu says. “It’s hard to make me happy because I’m a perfectionist, but I told the guys that if I crack a smile, I’m happy.”
Hillis-Gold knows how good this team can be if it works.
“We’re a perimeter team, that’s for sure,” he says. “We don’t really have a presence inside, but we’re going to get a lot better.
“We’re going to surprise a bunch of teams because we work really hard. We’ll be the hardest-working team in the province, that’s for sure.”