CORNER BROOK As it turns out, all those laps had a finish line for Nathan Barker and his Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association-West teammates.
The group of 20 was put together by coaches Frank Foo and Tom Stewart back in September as part of an NLBA mandate to seek and train players from the west coast, with the notion of having the best of these players picked up for the under-15 provincial team next year when the nationals are in St. John's. The training program was devised to help ensure the province floors competition teams at the national level.
As part of the plan, the under-14 group was to travel to competitive events, such as the Festival d'été Basketball Québec at the Sports Centre Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Que. from July 13-15. The tournament featured over 66 teams in total, from the under-14 to under-17 age groups for both boys and girls. Eight teams competed in the under-14 division, including an NLBA-West club sporting 13 chosen players — Barker, Tyler Wise, Riley Woodman, Chris Hughes, Jordan Ryan, Chris Dobbin, Matt Hancock, Zack Simmons, Jacob Matthews, Brandon Bragg, Patrick D'Eon and Chris Bennett.
The group practised daily since mid-June to gear up for the national tournament, featuring teams from Quebec and Ontario.
"It was a lot of hard work," said NLBA-West's top scorer, Nathan Barker. "We had to run laps every day around the track outside of our school."
The tournament format for the under-14 boys bracket saw the group of eight split into two divisions of four. Teams would then play two games each within their division to determine their ranking, then cross over to play the team with the same ranking in the other division.
NLBA-West won it's first game 66-32 over Quebec's Henri-Bourassa, before dropping a 54-47 decision to the Vikings of Montreal East, placing them second in their division. They then played off against Rivière du Sud in the crossover, edging them 73-67 to finish as the third best under-14 team in the tournament. Barker led the team with 32 points in that game, along with a team-high 28 points in the loss against the Vikings.
The 13-year-old son of Corner Brook's Dean and Natasha Barker isn't nailed down to one position, switching from point guard to centre without missing a beat. He felt his team had improved after so much practice, but was still surprised they handled themselves so well in Quebec.
"I did not think we were going to do as well as we did," he admitted. "I thought teams out there were going to be a lot better than they were, and bigger."
That said, Barker still felt the competition was tougher than anything they'd experienced on the island.
"Most teams out there were better than teams from St. John's that we've played," he said. "The best team was definitely the Vikings.
"They were a lot quicker than we are," he added. "And smarter with the ball."
Nerves played a part in some slow starts, Barker said, but his team always bounced back.
"You could see the start of every game, how we didn't start off as good as we should have," he said. "But then we finished better."
The program will now take a break for the summer, before picking back up again in the fall, but if the results in Quebec are any indication, several members of NLBA-West should have a solid shot at making the under-15 provincial team next year.
"There's a lot of skill on our team," said Barker, who said he "hopes" to make the cut. "I think a few of us could make the Newfoundland team."
The trip wasn't all business though, as the team got to experience a lot of sight-seeing in Old Montreal and visited the La Ronde Six Flags amusement park.
No ride there could match the thrill of success against national competition, however.
"We were really proud," Barker said. "We were all in the same hotel room the next night and we stayed up all night."