Pan­thers stepped up to the chal­lenge

The Chatham Daily News - - SPORTS - MARK MALONE mmalone@post­media.com

The McGre­gor Pan­thers wanted more than an­other OFSAA gold medal in the 2001-02 sea­son. They wanted a chal­lenge. Rather than go for a third straight ‘AA’ boys bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship, the Pan­thers opted to jump up to the ‘AAAA’ level against the big­gest and best teams in the prov­ince.

Head coach Dan Lewis and as­sis­tant coach Dave Kent knew the Pan­thers were good enough to do it, said guard Alan Cat­trysse, and so did the play­ers.

“They brought it to our at­ten­tion,” Cat­trysse said, “and we said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s do this. Let’s chal­lenge our­selves. We’ve al­ready ac­com­plished ev­ery­thing we could at the ‘AA’ level.’”

The Pan­thers even­tu­ally placed fourth at the OFSAA cham­pi­onship, but they’re re­mem­bered as one of the finest bas­ket­ball teams Chatham has ever seen.

They’ll be in­ducted into the Chatham Sports Hall of Game on Thurs­day at the WISH Cen­tre.

“It was such a spe­cial group of play­ers,” swing­man Kevin Kloos­tra said. “You don’t re­al­ize it at the time. Now you think back and it’s, ‘Yeah, it was a great time.’”

The Pan­thers be­gan the three­year stretch by win­ning OFSAA gold in 2000, then did it again in 2001 in dom­i­nat­ing fash­ion.

They led 41-15 af­ter one quar­ter in the 2001 gold-medal game and won by 30 points over Kin­car­dine.

With four starters back the fol­low­ing year, they wanted a big­ger test.

“Ob­vi­ously we dom­i­nated the ‘AA’ scene,” Kloos­tra said. “We wanted to go against the best. We’d al­ways go against them in tour­na­ments ear­lier in the year and have suc­cess.”

The Pan­thers tested them­selves ev­ery year by en­ter­ing the most pres­ti­gious tour­na­ments in On­tario. They held their own against much big­ger schools, so no op­po­nents took No. 4-seeded McGre­gor lightly when the OFSAA cham­pi­onship rolled around.

“We had a very, very tal­ented team,” Kloos­tra said. “We didn’t want to just stay in Chatham. We wanted to go over the prov­ince and make a name for our­selves. We weren’t afraid of no­body.”

Years be­fore the Bos­ton Celtics and Mi­ami Heat won NBA ti­tles by re­ly­ing on a Big Three, the Pan­thers had their own trio of su­per­stars: Kloos­tra, Cat­trysse and Andy Fan­tuz.

Kloos­tra would earn an NCAA Di­vi­sion I schol­ar­ship to Bing­ham­ton Univer­sity. Af­ter one year there and an­other at Wy­oming’s Casper Col­lege, he en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Windsor and helped the Lancers win an OUA cham­pi­onship.

Cat­trysse played for the Cana­dian ju­nior base­ball team and was a four-year starter on the Michi­gan State base­ball team.

Fan­tuz starred on the grid­iron, win­ning the Hec Crighton Tro­phy at Western be­fore play­ing 11 sea­sons in the CFL.

The Pan­thers had depth, too, with Kyle Rob­bins, Jeremy Derk­sen, P.J. Hamil­ton, Mike Bean, Ryan Mor­ri­son, Rob Shaw, Scott Cur­rie and Mark Oulds.

“We had some re­ally good role play­ers,” Cat­trysse said.

The Pan­thers fin­ished with a 50-8 record. They scored more than 90 points in 12 games.

Their 25-game win­ning streak ended with an OFSAA semi­fi­nal loss to East­ern Com­merce. That was fol­lowed by a 64-62 loss to Burling­ton Nel­son in the bronzemedal game.

“It still stings a lit­tle to this day,” Kloos­tra said with a laugh.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

The 2001-02 McGre­gor Pan­thers placed fourth at the OFSAA ‘AAAA' boys bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship. The Pan­thers were, front row, left: Mike Bean, Ryan Mor­ri­son, Kyle Rob­bins, Rob Shaw and Scott Cur­rie. Back row: coach Dave Kent, P.J. Hamil­ton, Jeremy Derk­sen, Mark Oulds, Andy Fan­tuz, Kevin Kloos­tra, Alan Cat­trysse, head coach Dan Lewis and man­ager Ron De­buss­chere.

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