Tyrell Laing will have to wait until next year to try to take the UNBC Timberwolves deep into the playoffs and that's a crying shame.
The way he was swishing his shots on his way to winning the Canada West scoring title this season there's no tellling what he and the T-wolves might have accomplished had they managed to squeak into the playoffs. Unfortunately for UNBC, after a promising 4-4 start, an 11-game losing streak scuttled those playoff plans.
It wasn't for a lack of trying for Laing, whose scoring consistency over a 20-game schedule was unequaled by anybody else in the 17-team conference. The fourth-year point guard, a Prince George Secondary School graduate, averaged 21.9 points while racking up a season total of 437 and he's strong candidate to make the Canada West all-star team.
"It's almost surreal to think how far I've come in a year's time, to only start seven games (previously in his career) and now lead Canada West in scoring," said the 21-year-old Laing.
"I'm not sure how many people have won the scoring title playing in the same city they're from, so I think that's pretty cool. Just growing up in Prince George I've taken a lot of pride in trying to inspire the younger kids. When I'm out there and I see some kids in the stands it's like looking in the mirror and I can put myself in their shoes. I want to show them that you can be as successful as a basketball player as you want to be and you can do it here.
"I saw a few (local) guys like Sam Raphael and Dan and Dennis Stark be successful in Canada West and I just want to continue that tradition and show the kids."
Having been groomed on minor basketball, Junior Timberwolves camps and academies, high school and provincial all-star teams until he was ready move on to U Sports, Laing now understands the process and what's required of him to play at the university level. It took three seasons of paying his dues spelling off the usual starters before he was ready to take the T-wolves on his shoulders.
"Physically and mentally, when you make the jump from high school to university basketball I think it takes people a long time to develop in those stages just because of the adjustments to athleticism and how smart everybody is," Laing said. "Nobody lets you do what you're comfortable doing. In this league, you're forced to improve upon your weaknesses and if you have weaknesses, opponents are going to exploit that. Sometimes individual athletes, to become successful at this level, have to weed out the weaknesses out of their games before they can really do damage."
For Laing, adding some muscle to his five-foot-11 frame was crucial in his development into a Canada West star.
"I was not physically weak but I wasn't as strong as I am now," he said. "That helps me be better equipped to people hanging on me and bumping and pushing, my physicality has gotten better.
"I've become a better leader. In my rookie season I wasn't as vocal and I didn't know the ins and outs of the Canada West game as I do now. The game has sort of slowed down for me. I could always shoot the ball well and dribble it fairly well but I've tightened those things up and I''ve become a better defender."
Laing didn't have to play much defence in his high school days at PGSS. He pummeled opponents with several 50-point games and once reached 67 in a league game against the D.P. Todd Trojans. UNBC head coach Todd Jordan knew there was plenty of raw talent to work with when Laing joined the T-wolves in 2016.
"He has a pretty diverse skill set that allows him to score in a bunch of different ways, he can shoot and he's got some ability as far as handling the ball and getting to spots and being able to finish around bigger guys at the rim," said Jordan. "He's kind of a quiet scorer in some ways. He gets to the free-throw line a lot. He's crafty about the way he attacks the basket and being able draw fouls. He doesn't have big dips in performance where he'll have nights where he doesn't make a ton of shots. It's pretty impressive to see the consistency he was able to show at least when it came to scoring the basketball."
Laing was second on the depth chart last season playing behind fifth-year point guard James Agyeman and was limited to an average 20 minutes of playing time but still managed to sink 9.6 points per game. This year, Laing and fourth-year guard Vova Pluzhnikov teamed up to form a 1-2 scoring punch that became even more crucial to the T-wolves' offence when post Spencer Ledoux suffered a concussion in November that sidelined him for 12 games.
"Vova had an excellent year and me and him just tried to feed off each other as much as possible," said Laing. "We are still working on trying to incorporate everybody and lift everybody up around us because I know sometimes it did feel like it was me and him sort of carrying most of that load. As a pairing in the backcourt I think we were as good as they come in Canada West."
Laing is not the only Prince George high school player who has made a significant impact this season in U Sports. UNBC forward Madison Landry, a Duchess Park graduate, finished third in the Canada West scoring race behind teammate Maria Mongomo. Three other locals - Colburn Pearce, Issy Bourque and Landry's younger sister Rebecca have also made the jump to university basketball with the T-wolves.
Laing's younger brother Cole, a Grade 10 guard for the top-ranked Duchess Park Condors senior team, is showing signs he could be on his way to a future wearing the green and gold at UNBC.
"Me and him have some similarities but we do have our differences," said Tyrell. "He's a bit more of a willing passer and a little bit more of a creator, as opposed to me as a scorer. Not that he can't score, but he would rather get his teammates involved."