Denzel Laguerta once helped anchor one of the greatest turnarounds in Pacwest history.
Three weeks later, he was an afterthought.
But so has been the reoccurring theme of the Burnaby, B.C native’s basketball career since embarking on his journey four years ago in what has been a period of his life equal parts enlightening as tiring. The point guard has been appointed co-captain of the Quest University team in his final year.
“I’ve definitely struggled mentally at times,” Laguerta said. “But I’ve just got to keep being humble at all times and knowing that I can’t have any sort of entitlement. I just want to reciprocate hard work – that’s my philosophy of life, really.”
At just 5’8”, Laguerta was a welcomed addition for a Quest Kermodes team that managed only a single win the year before his arrival in a miserable 2011-2012 campaign.
The fiery point guard was a former B.C. provincial team member, Lower Mainland MVP and multiple time all-star with the St. Thomas More Knights in Burnaby, regularly competing – and winning – against high schools with much larger student bodies. “I know a lot of people see a guy who is too small, but I saw the competitiveness, passion, character, skill but more importantly, the character,” said Aaron Mitchell, Laguerta’s former high school coach.
“I’ll never forget in his Grade 12 year when we were down 12 and it was clear we were going to lose and he didn’t want to come out at the end.
“He just kept saying ‘no, no’ with tears in his eyes. How can you not respect a guy with a heart like that?”
That passion for the sport immediately translated to the next level, where the diminutive player was inserted into the starting lineup and had the Kermodes, compiled of eight first-year players and not a single league all-star at that time, off to the best start in school history by the time the Christmas break rolled around.
But as is the case in almost every competitive athletic setting, Laguerta quickly found out a harsh lesson early on – he was replaceable. Despite having the school’s first-ever playoff berth well within its sights, Laguerta was promptly demoted to the bench behind American-import Cartiea French-Toney, who was ruled eligible for the new year.
“I definitely learned a lot playing my first two years behind Cartiea,” he said.
“I was wondering, ‘What else do I have to do?’ But in the end I just had to stay humble but hungry and trust what the coaches saw and the vision they believed for me.”
The school did end up making the playoffs for the first time that year with Laguerta earning all-rookie team honours. He played sporadic minutes the rest of the way, teetering between a second and third-string player.
He hovered around 10 minutes the next season – although he did play his best ball of the year at the national tournament. (See the tournament highlight video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSr-O5mt3jA.)
Basketball – along with religion – had always defined the Laguerta family’s way of life. But now three years deep into his career and with a stark stagnation in his development, the St.Thomas More grad was torn.
“I just remember speaking with my old high school coach and him saying, ‘Do you even still love the game? Are you playing for the right reason or because you think you have to?’” Laguerta said.
He found his answer across the world. “I think my trip to Germany definitely did solidify it for me,” said Laguerta, who partook in a four-month exchange to Zeppelin University, resulting in him missing the first half of his junior year. “Being away from the game, it definitely reaffirmed that same desire I had when I was young – I still loved the game. I wanted to play.”
With a continued persistence and renewed appreciation of his mortality with the sport, Laguerta has been appointed the co-captain in his final year and he is hungry to maximize his – along with his teammates’ – potential, regardless of what it takes.
“Not to knock the leadership last year, but it just seemed like we didn’t care once guys got hurt and we got a little sick, “ he said. “It felt like we lost the desire. It felt like we quit.
“But we’re definitely more open now with the captain meetings. We have the talent for [the championship] – the goal always remains the same.”