A Winnipeg basketball team got some global exposure after it won a Western Canadian championship last month.
The Winnipeg Red Star went 5-0 en route to the Liga Kapamilya Filipino basketball tournament title in Burnaby, B.C. on Aug. 25. The tournament featured 12 teams from Manitoba, Alberta and B.C.
Point guard Eric Garcia hit the winning shot with 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Red Star a 62-60 win over a team from South Vancouver in the final.
The game was shown on a pair of Filipino television networks which are available throughout North America and in the Philippines.
"We wanted to try to promote the city of Winnipeg and show how it’s one of the top Filipino basketball cities in the world outside of the Philippines," said Garcia, a 23-year-old Tyndall Park resident who played five seasons for the University of Manitoba Bisons. "I think we made our family and friends proud by getting on TV. I know we had a lot of family in Winnipeg watching."
The Red Star trailed by 11 points early, but battled back to force overtime. With the game tied, Garcia beat the buzzer with a one-footed 15-foot fade-away from the elbow.
"It’s a move I use over a taller defender," he said. "I had their centre guarding me. It wasn’t a called play, it was just being in the right place at the right time and having the opportunity to take the shot."
Tournament MVP Jeff Salamat scored the last 11 points in regulation, and 21 in total, for the Red Star.
Coach Iggy Grinevsky, who led the Garden City Fighting Gophers to a provincial junior varsity boys championship last winter, said the team came into the tournament as an underdog.
"We weren’t as stacked as we normally would be," he said, noting that there are other Filipino tournaments happening soon in Toronto and Washington.
The team was formed three weeks before the event, and managed to get in about five practices before taking off for B.C.
"They were good kids," Grinevsky said. "Very diligent. They have heart, they’re gutsy and determined. You can’t teach having guts when you play the game."
Garcia has played in local Filipino leagues and traveled to tournaments for years, but said this one was special because of the odds stacked against the team.
"We didn’t have the absolute best roster, but I think we were confident we could win it," he said. "All our other wins were by double digits. They weren’t as close as I thought they might have been."
After the win, the players were immediately swamped by well-wishes from Winnipeg, where much of the Filipino community was following their progress.
"A lot of people knew about it and supported us throughout," Garcia said.