The Esso Blazers conquered their most elusive goal this month: a national basketball championship. They did it through a clean sweep of last year’s defending champions, the Dominos Warriors.
Head coach Shawn Pitterson and his talented roster were able to finally embrace the cold metal of a championship trophy. Pitterson has been the head coach of the Blazers for fourteen years now, dealing with ups, downs and finals losses. But winning his first division one championship was well worth the wait.
“Oh boy, I’m so happy. We all worked so hard and we’re finally over the hump. It’s a great feeling,” Pitterson said. “In past seasons some of my college players weren’t back in time so we never had a full squad.
“But everyone was here and everyone contributed and we finally came out on top.”
Pitterson is referring to his four star college players: Davion and Josh Cotterell, Sammy and Shaad O’Garro. All are guards and all were away at college until coming back just in time to close the season and contribute to the Blazers’ first championship season. Pitterson targets the reason for the successful campaign to his club’s loyalty.
“The core guys have stuck with us over the years, despite the heartbreaks and finals losses. Guys like Perry Levy, Kevin Maxwell, Muscles (Nicholas Beverly) and Shaad O’Garro have been here for years and we finally won one together, it feels great.”
Perry Levy is Esso’s longest tenured player, being with the club for a full ten seasons. Levy had his doubts about the club after three finals losses, but ultimately decided to tough it out and win a championship for Shawn and the sponsor.
“Me and Shawn have been a part of Esso for a long time, and after a while, for me at least, it became about getting a championship for Shawn,” Levy said. “Me, Kevin and Muscles all considered moving at one point, but we wanted to get the job done for Shawn and the sponsor.”
When asked about their first championship season, Levy had this to say, “The season was a grind, man. We showed a lot of physical and mental toughness though, we won games we had no business winning. I remember we were down 20 going into a fourth quarter and we just dug down and ended up winning that same game by 20.”
The Blazers had heart, they had drive and determination. Perhaps, mirroring that of their new assistant coach, and former player, Carlos Pastor. Levy commented on Pastor’s first year as a coach of the Blazers.
“He lit a fire under us and brought a lot of energy to the team. He was creative with his team concepts and really motivated us and made us believe we could win.”
Pastor was a player with the Blazers last season. He explained that making the transition to coaching was easy because of his on-court experience with the team.
“I knew everybody on the team, I knew what their strengths and weaknesses were and they all knew me too,” Pastor said. “I earned their respect by playing with them, so they all bought into the system Shawn and I put in place, they accepted me. It made it very easy to coach them.”
Pastor could not say enough about the team, he stated how selfless the team was throughout the season.
“When we were down, nobody pointed blame; nobody whined or complained, everyone took responsibility and they just believed in each other and in the system and we got the job done.”
The Blazers had an abundance of talent, but to put together a championship run you need heart, determination and discipline. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Pitterson and his Blazers knew that well.
“Everybody worked so hard this year and when we were faced with adversity we all over came it and we came away with the championship. Everyone put defence first and that played a huge part and with our exciting athleticism it made for a very strong defensive effort.”
Pitterson was not only ecstatic about the victory, but relieved too.
“It really wasn’t easy, but we finally did it. We finally came away with the hardware.
I’m so proud of the guys, they’ve been so loyal to me over the years and it feels great to win with the group we had. I also have to give it up to the sponsors. Esso has stuck by me and the team for fourteen years now and they deserve a lot of the credit.”
The Blazers had a superstar cast this season, mixed with loyal veterans and young, athletic defenders. 2012 saw a very talented Blazers team put together a season for the ages, with only one loss throughout the year (a game one loss at the hands of the DHL Wolves in the semi-finals).
The Blazers, under Pitterson and rookie assistant Pastor, were undoubtedly ahead of the competition and saw the season through until the end when the finals trophy was theirs to hoist.