LANGLEY — Yu bet.
That was the headline to a story I had written almost 12 years ago in the pages of The (Vancouver) Province newspaper.
Its purpose was to explain that there really was nothing to question, that a pure-guts UBC Thunderbirds’ fifth-year senior named Jordan Yu was going to play at the CIS national championships despite nursing a freshly-broken left hand.
All these seasons later, it remains one of those portents, one of those clues which told you that a willing student of the game had learned too many incredible lessons to ever turn his back on it.
From a post-secondary career which began at the former Capilano College, to that of a reserve player on the roster of one of the deepest and most talented UBC teams ever assembled, the kid from Prince George has actually ascended to the role of the ‘Birds starting point guard over the 2005-06 campaign, one in which UBC went an awe-inspiring 20-0 in the Canada West regular season.
Yet in the final practice before those nationals, in what his uber-talented teammate Casey Archibald described as a freak accident, Yu broke his hand severely enough that doctors, citing medical ethics, refused to freeze it.
Of course you know the ending to this story.
UBC didn’t win the national championship, yet Yu played to the best of his abilities, closing out a personal chapter whose highlighted moments represent the very foundation of what has now become his life’s calling.
HOW FUN TO COME FULL CIRCLE
It’s the morning of Dec. 7 at the Langley Events Centre, and only one of the 16 teams taking part that day in the opening round of the 2017 Tsumura Basketball Invitational is on the premises.
After a journey south from its home base in Prince George, the Duchess Park Condors are getting a feel for the rims during a game-day shoot-around at the LEC’s centre court complex.
And the guy running the practice, is of course none other than a former grad, a Class of 2001 alum named Jordan Yu.
“I still look young,” the 35-year-old Yu jokes, “but I am getting old.”
Now in his second year working within the Condors’ program, but his first as the head coach of the senior varsity, you can say that Yu has come full circle.
As a 10th grader back in the 1998-99 season, he helped lead Prince George’s O’Grady Catholic to the B.C. Single A provincial title before spending his final two senior varsity campaigns with Duchess Park.
Now, after a collegiate career spent both playing and coaching at Capilano and at UBC, followed by some time in the private sector, and even a brief stint playing professionally overseas with younger brother Nathan, Yu is back home in North Central B.C.
He had his wife, former UBC star point guard Candace Morisset, who won two B.C. AAA titles at Brookswood Secondary and later two CIS national crowns with the ‘Birds, are raising their two young boys while establishing Northern Bounce, a recently-launched basketball academy.
“It feels like home because it is home,” continues Yu, who last season guided the Duchess Park junior varsity team to the provincial tournament, also staged at the LEC.
“Just to be able to give back and help these players is a thrill,” continues Yu, who stresses the importance of reinforcing the details of his own journey to his players. “I just want to let them know that there are players that can come out of Prince George and go anywhere. It’s been about changing a mindset in the basketball community. What seems like a real far reach is something you can achieve one step at a time.”
THE TRUE DEFINITION OF BENCHMARK
If there is one feature that the years have not managed to wipe clean from Yu, it’s that youthful face, the one that never stops smiling.
“From the first time I talked to him, his personality was just infectious,” remembers UBC head coach Kevin Hanson, who brought Yu to the Point Grey campus for the 2003-04 season, following two seasons at Capilano. “He was always so positive. JY had an ability to communicate. It could be at the very end of a game, a tie game, and he would have the ball in his hands. Whatever it was, he would have a smile on his face. He was a huge part of our team.”
That is saying something on a team which featured, in their prime, the dual talents of both Archibald and Pasha Bains.
It also says a lot that he sat on the bench for much of his first two seasons at UBC, playing behind another of the program’s all-time greats, point guard Karlo Villanueva.
“We recruited (Yu) out of college because he was quick and could shoot it, but we already had Karlo and so I wondered ‘Was there was going to be room?’” remembers Hanson.
“So I have to give him full credit because not once did he get upset. In fact, he encouraged everyone. To this day, that is what I remember, that not once did he pout or get mad at anyone. Instead, he had this way of making everyone else feel good about themselves. It is such a quality.”
Ask Yu about it, and it’s something he hopes his own players take to heart.
“You can be the seventh, eighth, ninth guy off the bench and still have a major role to play,” he says. “I pride myself that in the years leading up (to his final UBC season), I was a part of the bench squad that would beat up on our starters and make them better.
“Being part of a winning culture is about more than being the star player,” he continued. “Being a kid in Prince George, I was the star player. But then when I got to college, I had to take what everyone calls a lesser role. But we always won, we always had a team-first mentality and I learned that I could be a gel guy. Coming out of Capilano, I had some other universities looking at me, but I always wanted to be a part of a winning program, even if it meant taking that lesser role. So now, if one of my players complains that they aren’t playing as much as they want to, I don’t let them buy into that mentality.”
TAKING A NORTHERN BOUNCE
Basketball academies have long played a huge role in the age-group development of basketball players, a fact driven home by the efforts of Yu’s former UBC teammates Bains and Chad Clifford, who founded Drive Basketball.
Now Yu is discovering the same thing in Prince George.
“It blew up,” he begins of Northern Bounce. “It very quickly turned into 80 players, and it’s kind of been stuck there because I actually don’t have enough coaches.”
Think back to 1980, the year Duchess Park won B.C.’s highest-tiered senior boys high school basketball championship.
That team, was in so many ways, an outlier.
Yet since the turn of the century, U Sports basketball has come to not only Prince George (UNBC) but of course Kamloops (Thompson Rivers) and Kelowna (UBC Okanagan).
And when the Kelowna Owls won the 2016 B.C. Quad A boys high school championships, they became the first non-Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island team to pull the trick since the Condors some 38 years before them.
Yu’s current edition of the Condors, within a four-tiered province, play at the Triple A level, and in the last poll were holding down the No. 10 position.
And like himself as a high school senior 17 seasons ago, Yu is coaching a true star in 5-foot-11 senior point guard Colburn Pearce, the kind of player who could start for any team in the province and be among its leading scorers.
Yes, it took Yu a while to put his basketball roots back into the Prince George soil, but now, with his basketball-minded wife and their two boys, aged two and four, the next generation is getting a chance to grow up a lot like their mom and dad did.
“I spent 14-and-a-half years down here after high school,” Yu says of his time spent in the Lower Mainland. “I would see my parents every once in a while and each time you go back, mom and dad are a little older That, the housing market and two kids made it best to go back home.
“It’s been a great transition move for us,” added Yu, “and we’re spending a lot more time with our kids. It’s been amazing to be able to share this with Candace. Our kids feel it. (Basketball) has been a part of our lives for as long as we can both remember and it’s something that will be for as long as I am here. Basketball has always had a way of pulling me back and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Anywhere else, of course, until the middle of March, where the goal is to be back at the Langley Events Centre for the start of the B.C. Triple A championship tournament.
And if they make it, they won’t be dark horses for the title. But they will be underdogs. And their coach wouldn’t want it any other way.
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