VALLEY – The long hours spent on the road, in the gym and the driveway are really beginning to pay dividends for the Fitzgerald family these days.
The two brothers, Chris and Stephen, came home from Edmonton this week with a pair of bronze medals at the Basketball Canada nationals – Chris in the under-17 division and Stephen in the under-15.
Chris, a gargantuan six-foot-seven teenager, smiles when asked if he could be the same player he is today without the help of his younger brother.
“Yeah, definitely,” he laughs.
The two boys have played against each other at home since their earliest memories, with their father coaching and refereeing them the whole way.
After posing for pictures with their medals in the driveway of their Valley home, Chris grabbed a ball to get some action shots.
“Can we get one of me dunking on you?” he asked his little brother with a grin.
Stephen is no pushover on the court, however. Standing at six-foot-one, years of dealing with his brother’s height advantage have paid off for the recent Bible Hill Junior High School graduate.
“Having him has definitely helped me be able to guard against bigger guys since I’ve always had Chris to defend against while growing up,” he said. “I was put in that situation a lot at nationals, so I guess he helped with that.”
The brothers took similar paths to reach the bronze-medal games last weekend. Both Nova Scotia teams entered the tournaments as fifth seeds, with the top four provinces receiving byes to the quarterfinals.
The under-15 squad booked a semifinal date with Ontario after knocking off fourth-seeded Alberta in the quarters. Despite leading Ontario by two points at the half, Nova Scotia found themselves down by 27 at the final buzzer.
In the bronze medal game, the under-15 boys seemed to be marred with more of the same luck, down by 16 late in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of guys felt defeated,” Stephen said. “We thought we weren’t going home with a medal.”
But then the game began to turn the other way. After a couple of giftwrapped turnovers, the momentum swung and the Scotian boys mounted a 27-5 run to close out the game.
“That was probably the most exciting game I have ever seen,” said Darryl, the boys’ father. “Nine out of 10 times, they lose that game with that deficit. But not that day.”
Chris and his team earned a spot in the quarters against rival Quebec, the team that knocked them out of the Canada Games by four points last year.
A tight game the whole way through, Nova Scotia pulled it out in the end as Quebec rimmed out on a game tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
“That was one of the biggest wins of my life,” Chris said. “We were all crying, hugging each other, telling each other we loved them,” he laughed.
After bowing out to Manitoba, the under-17 squad went on to beat New Brunswick by 16 points to win the bronze medal.
It wasn’t just a busy week for the brothers, but also for their parents.
With the tournament being played in the massive Saville Centre – a facility with 13 courts and more than three-and-a-half acres of hardwood – there were times when the boys played at the same time.
“It was a race back and forth between my wife and I, running to catch big moments in the games,” Darryl said. “There were a lot of Nova Scotia parents there, so it was a workout for us to keep up with everything going on.”
Next season, Darryl will get to see both his sons suit up for the CEC Cougars, marking the first time they’ve played on the same team. In his Grade 12 year, Chris will be fielding offers from several university teams.
“I don’t want to say where I’m leaning towards or anything,” Chris said. “But ideally I’d like to go south (of the border). That’s my biggest goal.”
Despite being several years away from university, Stephen is also thinking about his future.
“I’d love to play at the university level sometime, and maybe take it a little further – who knows?”