VANCOUVER — It’s easy to say that the UBC Thunderbirds have a better men’s basketball program today because of their latest recruit, a kid teeming with skills and upside.
After all, talent is talent, and Jack Cruz-Dumont’s blend of gritty purpose, on-court vision and next-level shot-making flair is special.
Yet it’s foolish to think that a program as unrepentantly pugnacious in its quest for a national title despite a drought that threatens to reach a half century, isn’t getting a whole lot more by welcoming aboard the 6-foot-3 guard.
In fact, as idealistic as it may sound to state such as fact, the other half of the Cruz-Dumont persona, the part which immediately brings both a sense of tradition and a soulful understanding of the struggle to the fore, might be just as important.
So many have come to learn the names, the history and the tradition of the blue-and-gold after they arrive on the Point Grey campus.
Cruz-Dumont, however, at the tender age of 17, has already lived it.
In fact, as the Vancouver College Fighting Irish senior prepares to play the final game of his high school career Saturday, helping lead the Quad A’s against the rival Triple A’s in the annual B.C. All-Star game at Richmond’s R.C. Palmer Secondary (click here for full details), he is already well aware of just how momentous a U Sports national title would be in the grand scheme of all things UBC.
“When I look at one of the main reasons that I ended up choosing UBC, it’s because in a lot of ways, it’s like Vancouver College,” he says of the storied yet title-starved programs, pointing out that Vancouver College last won the B.C. high school title in 1967 and UBC the national championship in 1972.
“At Vancouver College, that’s over 50 years, and it’s way past 40 years at UBC,” continues Cruz-Dumont. “So when I looked at going to UBC, it’s like I now have five years to reach my new goal, and whenever I lace them up, that is the goal that I will have in mind.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
In the weeks before he would start the senior varsity portion of his Fighting Irish career back in September of 2016, Jack lost his compass, his guiding force.
That’s when his dad John Dumont, first a Vancouver College star and later a UBC star over the second half of the 1990s, lost his battle with cancer.
If it’s too dramatic to say that for so many years Jack Cruz-Dumont’s basketball path had been predestined, it is fair to say that, with basketball in hand, he is following in his father’s footsteps.
In fact, when you consider just how deep the roots of the Dumont family basketball tree actually are, it would have been amazing had Jack decided not to continue his career with the UBC Thunderbirds.
Consider that when Jack dons cap and gown for his Vancouver College graduation ceremony this coming June, it will be precisely 25 years after his dad John did exactly the same.
And in the end, both he and his late father will make that same move from playing home games at Vancouver College’s Alumni Gymnasium to UBC’s storied War Memorial Gymnasium, both of which just happened to be built the same year, 1951.
“For sure, going through an experience like that forces you to change your mindset,” Jack says when asked about how he picked up the pieces at age 15 and moved on following his dad’s passing. “Ever since I was a little kid, it has been about going to Vancouver College for games, and having him there was the biggest thing in my mind. When he wasn’t, it motivated me even more to achieve the goals that we had set out for together.”
Jack, in fact, set one goal in his mind from a very young age, and that’s because he had a constant reminder of it.
“Ever since I’ve been a little kid, my father’s Lower Mainland MVP (plaque) has been on the wall,” says Jack, “and I’ve got it hung right there with all of my own accolades. He told me stories about how he had the whole Vancouver College journey. And that made me want to have my own journey as well.”
Again, 25 years after his father first managed the feat, Jack followed by winning the MVP award at the top-tiered Lower Mainland championships in late February.
It was such a similar journey that both the dad and the son accomplished their goals by beating the same coach, Bill Disbrow, who this past season coached St. George’s, and back in 1993 coached the Richmond Colts.
Coincidentally, Jack’s mom Trixie played her basketball at Richmond before later playing at UBC.
So what has it all meant for Jack Cruz-Dumont?
“I think the easiest thing to say is that I have grown mentally stronger and grown closer to my friends and family,” he says simply.
Of course, as perfect as transition looks on paper, Cruz-Dumont’s road from Vancouver to UBC was nowhere near the slam-dunk you might have expected it would be.
HE PICKS ‘BIRDS OVER DINOS
The question was a simple one: Were there days over the past few weeks in which he could picture himself a Calgary Dino?
“Easily,” begins Cruz-Dumont, who over his senior season with the Irish averaged 24.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. “They came after me hard. I went on a visit right before the playoffs. Then I watched them win the national championship. I asked myself ‘How could I give up that kind of opportunity?’”
Yet in the end, in a move that speaks not only to his tremendous skill, but to that so-called soulful celebration of his family’s UBC tradition, Jack decided not to hit the road.
“Calgary, next season, is going to be especially strong, with four seniors back and the MVP,” said Cruz-Dumont. “But UBC is where I wanted to be. I had to think about it, and winning a championship at Calgary would not be the same as winning it at UBC.”
Yet as important as it was for Cruz-Dumont was to honour his dad, it was just as important to him that he author his own script.
“That was one of the biggest things on my mind,” he continued, “making new history and making a direction for myself. That’s why Calgary was in the picture to the very end. It was the hardest decision of my life. But when I look at UBC, it’s where I want to be, just like Vancouver College. Even though I am going to the same school (as his dad), I want to make my own history and my own legacy there.”
The fact that he wasn’t able to snap an Irish title dry-spell that now sits at 51 years?
“Over the next four seasons, with both Hunter’s teams and Cole’s teams, (Vancouver College) will win it,” Jack says of his younger basketball-playing brothers. “So I am going to have to get one of my own at UBC.”
Which brings us back to family and to the full-circle life that makes B.C.’s high school and university basketball community so incredibly special.
This past September, a year to the day in which Jack lost his dad, he lost his grandfather.
“I think it was easier to accept my grandfather’s passing because of the state he was in,” said Jack of the man he was named after, and who was two months shy of his 77th birthday.
“Once he couldn’t come to my games and my brothers’ games (Grade 8 Cole, Grade 10 Hunter), that motivation to live… you lose a bit of purpose,” he continued of his grandfather, who also played basketball at Vancouver College in the 1950s. “It was time for him to be with his son. That is why that timing worked out.”
It’s then that Jack reveals some deeper family history, as much to tell himself that his father’s wisest words will always be with him.
“My dad had an older brother but he passed away when my dad was two,” he says of Michael, the uncle he never knew who lost his life at age five.
“Now, all three of them are together again. My dad would always talk about the fact that as he grew up, he didn’t have a brother and so that the three of us would always have to look out for each other.”
This past Tuesday, at the Vancouver College awards night, the Irish honoured their three basketball MVPs, and they were none other than the Brothers Cruz-Dumont: Cole (Grade 8), Hunter (junior varsity) and Jack (senior varsity).
And now, the eldest is moving on, ready to write his own story at a place which so desperately wants a storybook ending.
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