Barry Rawlyk has won 50 per cent of Saskatoon's BRIT championship titles.
It’s an incredible stat.
While Saskatoon has won only six Bedford Road Invitational Tournament (BRIT) titles in 50 years, Barry Rawlyk was part of three of those as head coach of the Holy Cross Crusaders.
“I’ve never really thought of that,” admitted Rawlyk, now the head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball squad, in an interview this week.
Rawlyk remembers all three of those elusive BRIT championship titles. Each one was different, each one separate. All of them “very different and unique situations,” he recalls.
“I never really looked at it as a series of three times,” said Rawlyk, who was honoured as the special guest during the opening ceremonies of this year’s 51st BRIT edition, which wraps up Saturday in Saskatoon.
“We were fortunate to have a lot of good players to be able to do that, string together some really good performances there. There are lots of memorable times when we didn’t win, too.”
Even so, Rawlyk has had a hand in 50 per cent of Saskatoon’s championships and nobody from Saskatoon can say the same, as longtime BRIT volunteer and enthusiast Kelly Bowers knows too well.
“This year’s special guest is very, very deserving,” Bowers said of Rawlyk, who was a guest speaker at the annual BRIT breakfast Friday morning.
“An outstanding coach.”
Indeed, Rawlyk was named the BRIT coach of the tournament a record four times.
As a high school student, Rawlyk played for the E.D. Feehan Trojans and got to play in BRIT once. He spent a couple of decades as a coach in the Saskatoon high school ranks with most of that time spent at Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School before a transfer to St. Joseph High School.
“They’re obviously different perspectives,” said Rawlyk, comparing his BRIT experience as coach and player. “I guess, as a coach, I had a much broader scope of experience there so I’d have to say as a coach, probably, I enjoyed the BRIT (more).”
FAVOURITE BRIT MOMENT
Rawlyk says there’s a lot of “special moments” that happened during his time at BRIT.
One of his favourite moments is still stored on a VHS video tape back at home.
Rawlyk fondly remembers the second time Holy Cross won BRIT. The Crusaders had won their first title in 1997. Their second championship came six years later in 2003.
“I remember when we won it again, the gym was packed and I remember all the Holy Cross fans just flooding the floor — it was just pandemonium,” recalled Rawlyk.
“It was a great moment in high school sport. You don’t see too often that level of enthusiasm. It was a really hotly contested game and the reaction of the fans was pretty good. I think I have it on an old VHS tape somewhere, still from the Shaw TV broadcast. I just remember looking at that and going, ‘Wow, that was quite a response.’ It was kind of a spontaneous rushing of the floor.”
Another BRIT memory that stands out for Rawlyk is a loss to Mowat, British Columbia.
“We had the game won,” said Rawlyk, still shaking his head, “and ended up losing.”
With a few seconds left in the game, a Holy Cross player got a steal and went for a successful layup to put the Crusaders up by three points. It left three seconds or so on the clock.
Mowat came down the court and pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.
“I knew it was going to happen; I could feel it happening,” said Rawlyk. “Their guy was over by the score table — he was on the sideline; we had him trapped on the sideline — and he literally jumped into the air, threw the ball up and he landed on the score-table. I was standing right beside him and I thought, ‘Yep, that’s going in.’ The ball went in, a three-pointer, to send the game into overtime and we lost in overtime.”
However, Rawlyk would later nail a three-pointer of his own. For the Crusaders, it’s three and counting.
The key to the BRIT hat-trick?
“The support of the school and the fans — and a lot of good luck,” he explained. You’ve got to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky. We were fortunate but, at the end of the day, I put it on the players. We had a lot of good players.”
BRIT is a unique tournament with shorter games, a somewhat unbalanced draw and short turnarounds for games.
“But the hoop is the same height and the court is the same length, and all that stuff,” countered Rawlyk. “The thing that makes it an unique event is all the sheer energy of the crowd and the environment is pretty unique to high school basketball. I don’t think you run into too many basketball events, of any description in Canada, where you’ve got that kind of enclosed environment with the crowd so enthusiastic and so many distractions, as it were, going on – the half-time shows and all the hoopla that surrounds the event. The people at Bedford have done a great job of building that event. Yeah, the games are a little shorter and they’re compacted at times, because there can be a short turnaround. It’s tough. It’s a tough tournament to win because of the short turnaround between games.”
Rawlyk says he isn’t surprised that Saskatoon has won only six BRIT titles in 51 years. Besides Holy Cross, only the host Bedford Road, Mount Royal and Walter Murray are Saskatoon-based BRIT winners.
“I think it speaks to the level of talent they’re bringing in to the tournament,” said Rawlyk. “The out-of-town competition that comes in is very stiff, so I’m not surprised by that at all.
“It’s speaks to the competitive level of teams they bring in.”