Friendships cut deeper than varsity colours

Javier Stephenson (left) and Zachary Fox-Tapper (right)  during a game in February this season. Stephenson and Fox-Tapper met in grade 11 while playing club basketball together | Willy Phan Javier Stephenson (left) and Zachary Fox-Tapper (right) during a game in February this season. Stephenson and Fox-Tapper met in grade 11 while playing club basketball together | Willy Phan

Willy Phan
Sports Reporter

Humber Hawks point guard Zachary Fox-Tapper grew up playing basketball with his best friends and this year got the chance to play against and trash talk them in the OCAA.

Fox-Tapper, Javier Stephenson and Jermaine Chisholm remain close friends despite attending different colleges and playing on different varsity teams.

Stephenson is a sophomore guard for the Sault Cougars while Chisholm and Fox-Tapper recently completed their rookie campaigns with the Fanshawe Falcons and Humber Hawks respectively.

“I met (Stephenson) in my eleventh grade on some club teams,” said Fox-Tapper, a marketing student.

He described Stephenson as a close teammate and friend when they played for the Markham Gators in the Ontario Basketball Association.

“From then, we grew on each other,” added Stephenson, a child and youth worker student at Sault College in Sault St. Marie.

Stephenson has close ties to other Humber Hawks as well. He is the cousin of Humber guard D.J. Morrison and is close friends with Humber small forward Emeron Rodgers.

Meanwhile, Fox-Tapper and Chisholm were high school teammates at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham.

“I met (Fox-Tapper) in gym class,” said Chisholm, a business student at Fanshawe College in London, Ont. “We played on the same teams since grade 10 up until grade 12. Same high school team, same AAU team.”

When Fox-Tapper and Chisholm started their college basketball careers last fall, the trio was excited to begin a three-way rivalry in the OCAA.

“We knew that we were all in the same conference and some trash talking started,” said Fox-Tapper.

The Humber guard encountered Chisholm as a league opponent in the early season when the Hawks defeated the Falcons 79-61 at home in November. The two teams met again at Fanshawe College in January when the Hawks cruised past the Falcons 78-64.

Prior to the games, Chisholm said he would exchange banter with Fox-Tapper before getting serious on the court.

Stephenson’s Cougars visited Humber for back-to-back games on Feb. 1 and 2.  The Hawks shredded the Cougars in both games 83-31 and 83-51, respectively.

Both Fox-Tapper and Stephenson received limited playing time for most of the season but both guards received significant minutes on the court when their teams met.
Fox-Tapper said he felt nervous and excited at the same time heading into the back-to-back games against Sault.

“When I got my opportunity to play against Sault, I knew it was a big opportunity and I had to make the best of it,” said Fox-Tapper.

“And plus, I was playing against one of my close friends, so I wanted to show (Stephenson) the progress I was making over the year,” added the rookie Hawk.

Fox-Tapper and Chisholm both stayed back for a fifth year of high school while Stephenson began his OCAA basketball career with the Cougars in 2012-13.

The Sault sophomore said he used his experience in the OCAA to help Fox-Tapper find the right school team.

“I told him what teams would best suit him because in my first year, I played everyone in the Western conference and that’s where he was looking,” said Stephenson.

When Fox-Tapper decided to attend Humber despite offers from other teams, Stephenson said he was happy for his friend’s decision.

“I respected his decision and I pretty much told him his game would fit perfectly as a Humber Hawk,” said Stephenson.

He said the trio of point guards stayed in contact on a daily basis throughout the season using a group chat.

Fox-Tapper described the impact of having his best friends in the OCAA as significant off the court as well.

“It’s a big deal to have close friends of yours in the same league because when times get rough, you have guys you can relate with,” said Fox-Tapper.

The basketball season has ended in the OCAA, but Fox-Tapper, Chisholm, and Stephenson plan to train together in Toronto during the summer to improve their games.