The Bankazo brothers always wanted to be crowned champions together, so perhaps it is only befitting the two have decided to become kings.
Red Deer Kings, that is.
Five years removed from a disappointing’ high school finals loss where the siblings played key roles for St. Mary’s High, the Kitchener, Ont. natives have reunited across the country at Red Deer College (Red Deer, Alta.) with their fire to claim royalty burning stronger than ever.
“It’s us, it’s always us,” said Ben, asked who the early season favourites for the national title is. “I feel like our school program has been really successful lately.
“The way it looks right now I think we’re the favourites.”
The brothers are a part of one of the more highly regarded college programs in Canadian basketball at the moment. The school captured its second and third Alberta conference titles in 2013 and 2014 while qualifying for the national tournament for three consecutive years in the process.
National recognition didn’t truly come pouring in for the small school until the 2013-2014 season however, when Red Deer and the Langara Falcons (Vancouver, B.C.) played what is widely considered one of the greatest championship finals in Canadian basketball history.
The Kings came up short in that affair but also earned a best-ever silver medal finish that is now paying dividends with many talented recruits joining forces with coach Clayton Pottinger in recent years.
“Our coach always has had such high expectations for us,” said Ben, the 23-year-old who averaged 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game for Red Deer last season.
“But this year it almost seems like he’s always [mad] because of the talent we have. He just keeps saying ‘I refuse to get anything less than a conference title, then a national title’ but it’s good.”
The Kings return the team’s leading scorer from last season, Tyler Wise, along with lead guard, Matt Johnson, and have brought in Anthony Ottley Jr. – the country’s leading scorer in 2013 before being ruled ineligible midseason.
So in the midst of what should be another legitimate run at the national title are the Bankazo brothers – two players who first honed their skills growing up in one of Kitchener’s most rugged areas, Chicopee Centreville, and who hope to add their own unique imprints on an already established squad.
“That defensive toughness is one thing from our old stomping ground that we brought with us,” said Henry, who averaged 1.15 steals per game last season.
“You could break a leg and you just got to keep pushing through it in the ‘Ville.”
Hyperboles aside, the hometown experience certainly has paid off for both players in the end.
Ben catapulted off his high school success and immediately jumped into the ultra-competitive American basketball scene playing with a host of future NCAA D1 prospects at Beacon Prep (Bellaire, Texas).
Meanwhile Henry avenged his infamous high school finals loss the next year and captured back-to-back championships at St. Mary’s while also helping the school to its first-ever provincial championship berth.
He attended Red Deer upon graduation but always knew he sought that rarely-shared bond with his brother once again.
“We’ve been living together our whole lives so it was really difficult the first year when he left and not seeing him and having him get on me for the little things – the stuff that always made me better,” said Henry, who averaged 14.7 minutes per game last season.
“Even though he was at (junior college) I just kept telling (Ben) how great the coaching staff was – the training was on the next level” Henry said. “I pitched it to him and I think he always had it in the back of his mind.”
Now as the Kings gear up for an important weekend of games, Henry knows this new campaign should bring a number of memorable moments moving forward.
“This preseason we already both started and it was really cool to go through the tunnel and them saying ‘number 7 – Ben Bankazo, number 8 – Henry Bankazo,” he said. “I was just thinking this a great, great feeling to have.”