It was the late, great John Wooden who once quipped: “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.”
Delivered a full half-century ago, in an era where catchphrases weren’t so immediately fated to become commercialized cliches, the wise words of the Wizard of Westwood have retained a dignity and a depth of meaning so instantly relevant in the lives of today’s student-athletes, each looking for inspiration in this time of pandemic.
It’s a quote whose ultimate meaning is derived through reflection, and therein lies its power: The realization that your time is forever now, and that you must seize it daily with no promise of reward.
In his own way, on his own journey, Jordyn Sekhon is one who seems to have embraced those words as his very own.
“I feel like everyone has a time that comes if you are able to stick it out,” the fourth-year guard with Abbotsford’s Fraser Valley Cascades explained this week. “If you patiently wait your turn, and you work in the dark, I feel that time will come.”
For Sekhon, that’s exactly what happened one year ago today when the Canada West men’s basketball playoffs opened with a single-game elimination clash between Winnipeg Wesmen and the host Cascades.
At that time, nearing the end of his third season as a reserve guard with the Cascades, the 6-foot-5 Sekhon had served what can best be described as a dutiful apprenticeship, working hard to improve all facets of his game while maintaining a deep inner faith in the importance he placed on preparation.
And thus with 10 seconds left in regulation time and UFV trailing Winnipeg 76-73 with its season on the line, opportunity arrived for the home town kid from nearby W.J. Mouat Secondary.
Teammate Jaskarn Bajwa had come up short on a corner three-pointer, and with 8.6 seconds remaining, in what can now be viewed as a fortuitous miss, fellow Cascades’ guard Kenan Hadzovic failed to convert a lay-in opportunity under the basket.
Off of that miss, a Winnipeg player wisely swatted the ball out of the paint, yet in the chaos, the ball somehow found its way to Sekhon who was positioned near the the top of the key.
Calmly stepping back at the top of the arc, he rattled home a long-distance shot with 3.9 seconds remaining, ultimately sending the game into overtime.
And while the uplifting crest of energy created by Sekhon’s shot seemed most responsible for the increased level of purpose he and his teammates found in the overtime period en route to a 92-84 win, the most enduring aspect of that night is the feeling it left inside of him… a level of self-belief which, some 365 days later, shows no signs of fading.
“Coming into my third year I felt like I was starting to develop more confidence, but it wasn’t consistent,” the 22-year-old finance major and academic All-Canadian explained. “But after that shot, I feel like that’s what solidified it for me.”
For the entire community of student-athletes around our province who have grappled with the emotions that accompany a complete shutdown of meaningful competition this season, the words of Wooden seem especially powerful.
And all of them, like Sekhon, are doing the best they can to stay prepared for future opportunities, all in a time filled with hope but without promises.
WHY NOT ALL SHOTS ARE CREATED EQUALLY
Never underestimate the lasting impact of making a big shot, especially when it comes at a formative time in a player’s career.
The most famous example?
Few shots in the history of the game have foretold greatness more succinctly than Michael Jordan’s elbow jumper with 17 seconds left on the clock in North Carolina’s 63-62 win over Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA national final.
“That was the birth of Michael Jordan,” Jordan told the late Craig Sager of TNT in reflection back in 2016. “Before then I was Mike Jordan. All of a sudden, I make that shot and I’m Michael Jordan. For me, it started my career.”
Yet one of the beautiful things about basketball is that in the final analysis, it’s not the height of the stage at which the shot is made that matters most.
Instead, it’s appreciating how impactful such moments can be in the lives of players at each and every level of play.
Joe Enevoldson is now nine months into his tenure as the Cascades’ head coach, and over the course of his career he has witnessed the ways in which big moments in his players lives has translated into big steps forward for their respective games.
More specifically, the former head coach of the Douglas College Royals, remembers how a huge shot hit by one of his own players — guard Courtney Anderson — in the 2019 PacWest championship final against Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Mariners had an impact that carried through the following season.
“When Courtney hit that little elbow jumper in the PacWest championship final, you could just see a light turn on,” remembers Enevoldson of a shot which put Douglas College ahead 72-70 with just 1.2 seconds remaining.
As the history books show, Vancouver Island came out of a time-out to to tie game and eventually win 89-82 in overtime, later parlaying the conference crown into a national title.
“Yet while we lost that game, Courtney was just a man possessed the next season… just supremely confident in every area of his game,” continued Enevoldson of Anderson. “And that’s what I see in Jordyn.”
Sekhon, set to graduate from UFV after next season, has said that the 2021-22 campaign will be his last.
Regardless, Enevoldson knows he will be able to lean on a veteran determined to leave everything on the court.
“I see that shot as turning on the light in his head, to where he goes ‘OK, I know I can be successful at this level.’ For some guys, the light just clicks on. Maybe it comes after you make a key defensive stop. Or maybe it comes after the summer you spent in the weight room. Or in Jordyn’s case, a big shot. I really hope that is the case and I think it is.”
ON BASKETBALL, FAMILY AND THE ORIGIN OF JORDYN
A father and a son each having the opportunity to play for a provincial title.
It’s become enough of a tradition at the B.C. high school championships that the tournament program has its own section dedicated to honouring each of those instances over the past 75 years.
In the Sekhon family, that tradition had continued with both Jordyn and his younger brother Reis following in the footsteps of their father Baljit Sekhon.
Raised in the north-central B.C. town of Quesnel, Jordyn grew up hearing the stories of the underdog high school team on which his dad played as a 5-foot-10 guard.
“I remember him telling me all about his team and how they had a big upset win at the B.C.’s,” explains Jordyn of Baljit’s 1986-87 Correlieu Secondary team.
As it turns out the Sekhons have had their fair share of significant moments at the event.
Baljit Sekhon’s senior year of high school back in ’87 was highlighted by a 63-58 opening-round upset win over North Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks at the old PNE Agrodome.
Although Correlieu would go on to lose to Vancouver’s Lord Byng Grey Ghosts in the quarterfinals, their win over Seaquam was one of those massive upsets which could not be quantified by the Seahawks’ actual seeding, unannounced in those days but likely somewhere between Nos. 3-6.
To the trained eye, they were very likely one of the top three teams in the 16-team draw.
At the earlier Fraser Valley championships held at Douglas College that season, Seaquam had dropped a heartbreaking 66-65 championship game decision to the Centennial Centaurs, a loss sealed from the free throw line with one second left on the clock.
The victory gave Centennial the top seeding on its side of the draw. On the other side were the eventual champion Richmond Colts. Had Seaquam instead beaten Centennial in the Valley final, they would have been accorded the Centaurs’ top seed.
Instead, the Seahawks drew an under-the-radar Correlieu team, one which played team basketball with all the precision of coach Norman Dale’s Hickory High squad from the movie Hoosiers. In that 63-58 win, Baljit Sekhon scored 16 points.
The next season, Seaquam was one of B.C.’s absolute powers, and had a 1988 Richmond Colts team, once voted B.C.’s greatest team of all time, not stood in their way, they would have been huge favourites to win it all.
Fast forward precisely 29 years minus a day later to March of 2016, and Jordyn Sekhon managed to out-do his father by pouring home a game-high 29 points, the final two coming off the biggest basket of his career prior to the shot he hit last year against Winnipeg.
With 2.9 seconds left in a B.C. Quad-A quarterfinal clash against Surrey’s Panorama Ridge Thunder tied at 65-65, Mouat’s Jass Singh somehow managed to telegraph an amazing three-quarter court pass through a fast-closing trap, finding Sekhon in full-stride down court for a lay-in which won the game at the buzzer and sent the Hawks to the Final Four.
Catch a glimpse of Mouat’s 2016-17 team photo in that year’s provincial program, and you’ll notice that Jordyn Sekhon proudly wears No. 23, of course the number made famous by Michael Jordan, who made clutch shots like they were a way of life.
“Yeah, my dad loved MJ so much that he named me after him,” Sekhon admits. “That’s why I wore it. We moved down to Abbotsford when I was in Grade 5 because he wanted us to have a better opportunity in the sport.”
“WHEN OPPORTUNITY COMES, IT’S TOO LATE TO PREPARE”
Take Jordyn Sekhon back to the very instance the ball was batted in his direction that night one year ago against the Winnipeg Wesmen, and there is a clarity regarding his state of mind which he still finds illuminating.
“People say they have so many things running through their mind when a shot like that comes,” begins Sekhon, “but I honestly had nothing running through my mind. I just grabbed the ball, stepped back naturally to the three-point line and I just shot it.”
Remind him that it almost sounds like the contemplative state of someone lost in meditation, and Sekhon laughs.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, because there was just no fear. But when I looked on as it went in… that’s a rush you just can’t understand.”
All of which is enough to start an official countdown, with fingers crossed, to a 2021-22 U SPORTS basketball season.
Every program, both women and men, have their own stories of hope rising from the ashes of our lost campaign.
Enevoldson, who is replacing longtime former head coach Adam Friesen, admits he has gotten a clearer picture each day as to the potential that Sekhon, among many others on his roster, will hopefully unveil in the late fall of this year.
“I definitely think he is a guy who can guard multiple positions, maybe not the bigger fives, but basically anywhere one through four,” begins Enevoldson. “For us to have a guy like that, who can move his feet, can turn his hips and sprint to get to a spot… especially with how competitive he is? And he views this as an opportunity.
“For me, as a new coach coming in, he’s also been a shoulder to lean on. Every university has its own little nuances, and he has helped me through this transition phase.”
For Sekhon, growth has come from both seeking wisdom and paying his own experiences forward.
A heart-to-heart with former Cascades’ guard Manny Dulay on the improvement he needed to make on the defensive side of his game can’t be ignored.
And developing a close bond off the court with returning impact guard Vick Toor is yet another hint of the unique chemistry percolating in the UFV backcourt.
“Last year, I was piggy-backing off the older guys,” he says of graduated seniors like Parm Bains and Sukhjot Bains. “Now I am getting to the point where it feels like I’m them, trying to help the younger guys get there.”
In the end, it seems fitting that Jordyn Sekhon hints at a future career as an investment banker, because he is showing himself that the sum of his collected experiences can manifest as wisdom, ready to pay dividends should opportunity arise.
It’s like he said earlier: “If you work in the dark” your time will come.
John Wooden couldn’t have said it any better.
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