LANGLEY — When Bill Bailey was a senior at Vancouver College back in 1954, old Alumni Gym was just being constructed.
“He’s told me how the school wasn’t nearly as big as it is today, and how back then it was a boarding school,” his grandson Sam, 17, says.
Jack Dumont graduated from the same school five years later, in 1959. In 1957, as a 10th grader on the Irish senior varsity, he helped the team win a B.C. title. These days, while he is not able to get out to games, he is never far from the thoughts of his grandson, who is named after him.
“He still calls me every single night and we have very good conversations,” says Jack Cruz-Dumont, 16. “He is still a part of it all.”
And thus the love of a game, which has been so carefully passed by its elders to its next of kin, seems especially relevant this week at the 72nd annual Telus B.C. boys basketball championships, set to open Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.
When the current campaign began in late November, Grade 11 guard Jack Cruz-Dumont earned the rare distinction of becoming a third-generation Vancouver College basketball player, something his Grade 12 teammate, forward Sam Bailey, became last season.
Together, in a season marked by both tragedy and triumph, they have helped lead the Fighting Irish to the Lower Mainland Quad-A title, and back into the provincial tournament.
Now, the team’s 1:45 p.m. opener against Abbotsford’s Yale Lions affords each the chance to accomplish something that the two most recent generations were not able to accomplish: Win a B.C. senior varsity title.
Yet that’s not what this story is all about.
Instead, it’s about taking all the right steps towards appreciating what tradition truly represents, to go beyond the simple donning of V-crested purple sweaters, to the place where a grandson, a father and later a son gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other through their common experience.
Growing up in the East Bay, just outside of San Francisco, Sam Bailey had heard about his family’s Vancouver College roots from his dad Stewart, an Irish grad who helped VC to a fifth-place finish in the 1981 B.C. tournament en route to being named a second-team all-star.
“Growing up in California, I didn’t really have a good idea of what it was all about,” says Bailey, now a 6-foot-7 senior and the Irish’s key front-court presence. “We moved (back to B.C.) in 2010 and before I started high school, my dad would take me to games there.
“The first time I walked in the gym, before I was accepted there, the bleachers were full. I kind of always knew, I think, that my family had deep roots there.”
That is putting mildly.
“Sam has five uncles who are all VC alums,” says dad Stewart. “All my brothers and my wife’s brothers (including CFLer Vince Danielsen) went to VC. My brother John’s team finished third (1988) and my brother Bill’s team placed fifth (1986).”
Of course, dad’s are allowed to issue friendly challenges to their sons.
“He always mentions how proud he was when he got an all-star at the 1981 tournament and how they finished fifth,” Sam says of his dad. “It’s a challenge to me: Will I ever achieve that? But making the provincials has been special for our whole team.”
And when the action tips off Wednesday, it will be a true team of Irish players who will try to end a provincial-title dry spell which extends back to 1967.
“On this team, there are so many who contribute on the floor,” Bailey explains of a rotation that goes legitimately nine or 10 deep and plays an aggressive brand of pressure defence with multiple trapping and double-team schemes.
“The style kind of started in practice,” continues Bailey, who along with teammates Cruz-Dumont and Emilio Gonzalez-Ruiz lead the team in scoring at just over 14 points per game. “We go at each other hard in practice and all of that hustle just started to translate to the games.”
Just as his father and grandfather before him carved identities with their teams, so too has Sam Bailey.
He’s grown to 6-foot-7 and he’s become a team leader, but as the provincials open this week, there is still a part of him that is that wide-eyed kid walking into Alumni Gym for the first time.
Jack Cruz-Dumont and your author traded stories on Monday afternoon.
Tsumura: “Jack, when I see you drive to the basket and extend for a lay-up, I think of your dad. You guys look just the same.”
Cruz-Dumont: “I know. I’ve heard that. And one of my dad’s close friends, (former STM star) Dominic Zimmerman, he sent me a photo of him going to the basket.”
Tsumura: “I knew it wasn’t just me.”
This past Sept. 1, Cruz-Dumont lost his dad, at age 41, to a rare-and-aggressive form of cancer.
The hurt and the pain are still fresh, yet the healing process which ultimately brings the gift of deep perspective has begun.
And it is on this journey of recovery that the 16-year-old has fashioned a most amazing season.
Silky smooth on the court, with a burst that is best described as silently loud, Cruz-Dumont has looked like a seasoned senior during his first year with the Irish varsity.
What personal trait does he think borrows most closely from his dad, who in 1993 led the Irish to third place at the provincial tournament and earned a spot on the first all-star team?
“I like to say hard work,” says Cruz-Dumont, who also continues to be inspired by his mom Trixie, the former two-time B.C. champion guard with the Richmond Colts. “My dad was the hardest working person I ever met and his fight and enthusiasm when he played, from what I’ve seen on tape, is the same kind of energy I like to try to bring.”
Says his teammate and friend Bailey: “It’s pretty unreal how he has dealt with it all. I just have so much respect for Jack. If I was in his shoes, I don’t know how I would have reacted. Every single night, he goes out there and plays for his dad and for his family and it motivates our entire team.”
Of course this is a story of three generations of basketball families.
And like Bailey’s, Cruz-Dumont’s is filled with meaning, especially when you ask him about the fact that he shares his grandfather’s name.
“His birth name is actually John, but he goes by Jack and I was named after him,” says Cruz-Dumont, who in a manner of speaking, symbolically links the arms of his grandfather around both he and his late father. “It’s like he has a part of both of us.”
And so this story, which started in the 1950s by two kids named Bill and Jack, just keeps on going. Stewart and John followed. And now Sam and Jack wave the flag.
United by their sport and by a title quest so very elusive, they continue the journey.
All that really matters is that they never give up the chase.
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