THEY'RE big and athletic, can shoot the three, pound the ball inside and play defence with a ferocious intensity.
And that is a lethal combination for the Oak Park Raiders and any opponent who may stand in their way.
The Raiders both muscled and finessed their way to an 86-61 victory over the No. 1-ranked Garden City Gophers Monday night in the final of the Boys 2011 Milk AAAA High School Provincial Championship before a raucous crowd of 1,800 at the University of Winnipeg Duckworth Centre.
Backed by a dominant inside performance from forward John Kiesman -- he finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds while chipping in two blocks before fouling out with five minutes to play -- and some spectacular play by guard Elliott Taylor, who led all scorers with 31 points, including four threes to be named the tournament MVP, the Raiders grabbed their second consecutive title and third in the past five years.
"This is a special bunch of guys," said Taylor, who was virtually unstoppable "We came to work every day at practice and it paid off for us today. These guys (Garden City) beat us earlier in the season so we came into this game with a chip on our shoulder to prove to everybody that we were the No. 1 team in the province.
"This team has everything. Our guards are great and our bigs they bang -- they're football players so they're used to banging inside -- and it's a solid combination."
The win also capped what has been a impressive run for Kiesman, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward who quarterbacked the Raiders to a Winnipeg High School Football League championship last fall and just committed to join Brian Dobie's University of Manitoba Bisons football squad. Kiesman was named to the tournament all-star team along with Andre Arruda-Welch and Chris Benevides of the Gophers and Theo Deezar of St. Paul's and Amarjit Basi of Sturgeon Heights.
The victory is the first for Raiders head coach Jon Lundgren, who replaced the legendary Randy Kusano after last year's championship and led his squad to a title in his rookie season as boss.
"It's great, but a lot of guys could have done a similar job with this team because they're just so super talented," said Lundgren. "They went from one coach who coahed for 35 years to a new guy. But these guys are coachable and the main thing about this team is they work hard. They do everything we ask of them as coaches. Our guards are skilled, we've got a bunch of guys who play football and that makes for a great team."
Lundgren praised his entire squad, but reserved his highest kudos for the leadership of Taylor and Kiesman.
"(Elliott) is phenomenal," said Lundgren. "He's a winner. That's all you can say about him. And John, the quarterback of the football team... that's the thing with guys like that: they're winners. It's easy to coach guys like that."