The host Kelowna Owls will limp into the 40th annual Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament against an aggressive No. 9-ranked team from Winnipeg.
Tournament officials announced on Thursday that the Owls are scheduled to play the John Taylor Collegiate Pipers in the opening game of their own eight-team tournament at Kelowna Secondary School Feb. 7 beginning at 8:15 p.m.
The Pipers "love to push the ball in transition and get after the it on defence", according to the tournament organizers' scouting report. "Their roster is balanced, with a combination of size and speed that allows them to match up with multiple styles of play."
With two years of provincial playoff experience, the Pipers are led by Manitoba provincial team starting forward Boris Zimbakov. He's returned to the team after tearing his ACL during last season's provincial tournament.
A hulking 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Zimbakov is said to have extremely high basketball IQ and can shoot, pass and handle the ball like a point guard.
Adding to the team's well-balanced lineup is senior guard Kuet Kuet, who is averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game and is regarded as one of the top all-around high school players in his province.
The same can be said about the Owls' Buzz Truss, but the 6-foot-4 forward won't be available for the Western Canada or the remainder of the season.
Truss, the team's leading scorer, averaging just over 18 points a game, had his left ankle broken in the first game of the Emerald tournament in Vancouver on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Owls also lost starting guard, John Katerberg to an eligibility issue earlier this year.
KSS coach Harry Parmar admits he can't replace Truss, but he's counting on the rest of his starting lineup of Malcolm Hlady, Joel Burma, Cooper Simson and Darrion Bunce - and the likes of ready-for-prime-time Liam McGoran, Eli Cato and Braden Hall - to step it up enough so his provincially No. 7-ranked team can keep pace with the frontrunners.
High School basketball fans will have the opportunity to see three other top-10 teams in B.C. during the three-day Western Canada event.
The No. 3-ranked Walnut Grove Gators of Langley, considered legitimate contenders for a provincial championship, will take on Alberta's No. 3 Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs of Lethbridge in their first game of the tournament on Feb. 7 (6 p.m.)
The No. 4 Kitsilano Blue Demons, top-ranked earlier this season, will take on Manitoba's No. 8 Kelvin Clippers in the 4:15 p.m. game on opening day.
The first game of the tournament will see the Abbotsford's W.J. Mouat Hawks, seeded No. 8 in the B.C. high school rankings, meeting the St. Francis Xavier Rams of Edmonton beginning at 2:30 p.m.