When Sage Usher enrolled at St. Michael’s College School a couple of years ago, he was a little unsure about the whole Jew-in-the-Roman-Catholic-school thing.
He’d been bar mitzvahed in Israel and came from a line of proud Jewish athletes.
It turns out, the religious aspect of the school curriculum was a take it or leave it proposition – which he left – and he was able to concentrate on the main reason he was there in the first place, playing basketball.
It’s a game he’s been pretty good at for a number of years and earlier this month, he helped the school’s Varsity Blue Raiders cap off a 47-2 season with a 47-38 overtime win against their arch rivals, Father Henry Carr Crusaders, to capture the OFSAA gold medal.
“It was close,” Usher said of the final, which left the Blue Raiders tops in Canada among high schools. “They were leading for most of the game. We took the lead in the fourth” but Henry Carr sunk a couple of threes in the final minute to send it to extra time. They attempted a “Hail Mary” buzzer-beater, but it was an air ball that missed the basket completely but which frayed a lot of nerves on the court. “It was a nail-biter,” Usher said.
In OT the Blue Raiders shut the door tight; all season long, the team had worked on its defence and it paid off in extra time, when they denied their rivals even a single point.
Usher won’t say the final was pre-ordained, but all year long Henry Carr was the only team in Canada that really gave them any trouble. During their earlier matchup at the St. Michael’s/Nike 53rd Annual Tournament, St. Mike’s was down 16 to Henry Carr, “but we came back to win,” Usher said.
“It was meant to be, to play them in the final,” he added.
The Blue Raiders have been one of the city’s best teams for a while, but it was a mid-winter tournament in Florida that really gave the guys confidence for the season, Usher said.
The Blue Raiders aheaded down to Orlando to participate in the Great Florida Shootout, an event that attracted teams from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and themselves.
They knocked off some pretty good teams and ended up losing to a team from Atlanta in the final, Usher said. “That gave us a lot of confidence the rest of the year. We knew we could compete with anybody after that.”
The Blue Raiders are loaded with basketball talent, he explained. There are so many good players that the coach changes players much like they do in hockey, rolling two lines of five.
As for himself, as a six-foot-three shooting guard, Usher can boast a pretty good three-point shooting percentage; he also attributes his success to his knowledge of the game, “playing in the flow of the game,” (not forcing anything, making safe plays) and his competitive spirit.
Prior to enrolling at St. Mike’s, he attended Crescent School where as a Grade 9 student, he was asked to play on the varsity team with kids in Grades 11 and 12.
Even before that, in Grade 8, he played for the BJCC Blue Devils (apparently recruiting a Blue Devil was not against St. Mike’s policy). Last year, that team finished fifth in the province among rep teams.
Though his high school season may now be over, basketball continues. This summer, he’ll be part of the under-19 Canadian team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He’s hoping to complete something his zaide, David Usher, couldn’t. David had been named to the Maccabiah wrestling team, but for financial reasons, the team was not able to participate.
Sage’s dad, Martin, had attended the opening ceremonies at the Maccabiah Games and he described the pageantry and the atmosphere of the event – in which athletes from around the world march into a packed stadium – as “amazing,” Sage said.
Those stories were big motivators for him to try out for the team. “That’s the reason you want to go,” he said. “It’s the way they talked about it.”