VANCOUVER — Jadon Cohee found out earlier this spring what it’s like to be the toast of the NCAA Div. 1 basketball world.
In the end, however, one of the most electrifying players in B.C. high school history has elected to return home, officially announcing Tuesday that he would play the final two seasons of his university basketball career with the UBC Thunderbirds.
“Honestly, I have been gone for so long and it’s hard to make the NBA, you know,” Cohee told Varsity Letters upon his signing with the ‘Birds. “Obviously, it’s still a dream of mine. But realistically, where I am going to be playing (professionally) is overseas.
“So I wanted to come home and leave a legacy,” continued Cohee, the Langley-Walnut Grove grad who spent the first two seasons of his NCAA Div. 1 career at Seattle University before spending last season at Southern Utah. “I have always been very prideful of the fact that I am Canadian and I want to bring two national championships to UBC.”
It’s simple math.
Cohee has two more seasons of eligibility remaining, and thus his goal becomes two national titles.
Yes, the school has not won the U Sports national men’s hoop crown since 1972, but ‘Birds fans better get used to the fact that the 6-foot-4 point guard Cohee sees the 46-season drought not as an invitation for inevitable heartbreak but as an opportunity for potential greatness.
And so now, both Cohee and his close friend Manroop Clair, the Burnaby South grad and ace shooter whom he had formerly played with at both Drive Basketball and Seattle U, are once again united. UBC officially announced Clair’s signing on Monday.
It’s Calgary’s world these days for the reigning U Sports national titlists, and it’s basically been Carleton’s century since Y2K.
Yet what seemed abundantly clear, even above the incredible incoming talent that UBC head coach Kevin Hanson unveiled this week, was the fact that without the kind of unbridled belief that Cohee brought with him, nothing could ever begin to change.
PICK OF THE LITTER
That’s me asking Jadon Cohee to repeat what he just said.
We’re on the floor together at War Gym, chewing the fat of his first four collegiate seasons, including a red-shirt season in 2016-17 at Southern Utah, when the topic turns to his transfer from the Big Sky Conference’s Thunderbirds to the Canada West’s Thunderbirds.
“I had 45 Div. 1 offers,” Cohee begins.
“Forty-five. Yup. Oregon, Xavier…”
“And how many of them were Div. 1?”
“All 45. I just took a visit to Oregon. Louisville offered me. Xavier, Minnesota. Georgia. Georgia Tech. I talked to Duke. Almost every major school in the country reached out to me.”
Clearly, Cohee did not set NCAA Div. 1 basketball on fire last season as a junior at Southern Utah.
Yet his decision to first leave Seattle University following his sophomore (2015-16) campaign, and then sit out a full season at Southern Utah, did nothing to hurt his market value in the eyes of Power 5 schools.
Cohee, amongst the Big Sky’s leaders in a host of statistical categories last season before an especially ill-timed ankle injury late in the season muted his final contributions (12.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), nonetheless led his team in minutes played (33.6 mpg) and was clearly looked upon as talented point guard on a team which had struggled to a 5-13 record in conference play.
Add to that the key fact that with one more year of eligibility remaining, Cohee had already graduated and thus as a master’s transfer would have been eligible to play immediately despite the fact he was moving from one D1 program to another.
“The first day I left Southern Utah, I probably had eight (offers) and within five days I had about 35,” Cohee says of what transpired from late April to early May.
Despite finding a place in which he was able to play huge minutes at his chosen position, and despite what he calls great coaching from head coach Todd Simon, Cohee just felt he needed a change of scenery.
“I got so much better just in my redshirt year and coach Simon was just amazing to me,” says Cohee, who first connected with Simon while the latter was coaching powerhouse Findlay Prep at an early edition of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational in Langley. “But I think everything happens for a reason, and now Manroop and I, we’re here trying to do something that has happened in a very long time.”
COHEE: A POINT WELL TAKEN
The UBC men’s basketball team was similarly enthused 12 months ago upon the signings of a pair of incoming freshmen in forward Grant Shephard and guard Mason Bourcier, both former Kelowna Owl grads, and both key contributors as Canada West freshmen this past season.
Clearly, they represent a huge part of the future of the program with their four remaining years of eligibility.
Yet after the team’s disappointing performance in the conference playoffs, coupled with the graduation of core seniors Conor Morgan, Phil Jalalpoor and Luka Zaharijevic, expectations for the coming season had been somewhat muted.
“We had great skill, but a lot of it is still youthful,” Hanson said of the rising roster prior to adding Cohee and Clair. “It seems in U Sports, you need fourth- and fifth-year guys to be successful. So automatically we got a lot of age and experience. This buys time for our younger guys to develop. Really, this has been perfect timing.”
In advance of UBC’s Wednesday exhibition against the Chinese national team at War, Cohee got a chance to jump into his first scrimmage with his new teammates earlier this week.
Only roster players from UBC’s 2017-18 team are eligible to play in the international friendly. Yet it was an eye-opening experience to see Cohee step in cold and command the entire group.
“I just thought ‘What an absolute incredible basketball talent,’” said Hanson after watching Cohee during his initial interaction with the rest of the team. “We had the two teams scrimmaging and he came in and he took the huddles. He was accepted right away. The rest of the players just took to him. You can try all you want to develop leaders, but it’s an innate trait and he has it. He was coaching guys. He was high-fiving with them.”
And then, when it was all over, there came a sight that Hanson says he won’t soon forget.
“The best thing I saw was as I was leaving the gym, there was Jadon Cohee walking over and sitting with Mason Bourcier, the two of them having a heart-to-heart,” the coach begins.
“Jadon knows Mason got a huge opportunity to be a starter in his first year, and at some point in his career, this is going to be Mason’s team. So with the two of them, and Manroop, we’ve suddenly got a lot of options.”
And if anyone can find the perfect way for two point-minded guards to flourish together on the floor, it’s Hanson.
His system welcomed both Aldergrove’s Randy Nohr and Windsor’s Jamie Oei at Langara College in the 1990s. Later, names like Chris Dyck, Alex Murphy and Josh Whyte found ways in various pairings, to succeed in dual point guard pairings.
“I haven’t had time to figure out starting line-ups or any of that stuff,” says Hanson. “But I will tell you this, we’re going to play the guys that play the best together. It’s all about who finishes games for us.”
…IF IT’S A DREAM, TREAT IT LIKE A JOB
It’s impossible to accurately rank the most influential incoming transfers in the long history of UBC men’s basketball.
Yet what you can say with more certainty is that Cohee is the program’s most significant transfer since Pasha Bains moved across town from Simon Fraser to UBC some 14 years ago for the start of the 2004-05 season.
Bains, coincidentally, would later coach Cohee through his youth club career after co-founding the Richmond-based Drive Basketball Academy.
And like Bains, who committed to Wyoming out high school and later played in the ACC with Clemson, Cohee has learned a lot along his collegiate travels south of the line.
“Seattle was a wake-up call,” he says of making his collegiate transition in the WAC under head coach Cameron Dollar. “You leave B.C. and you think you’re amazing. Like, I thought I was the best thing in the world.
“Coach Dollar was a tough coach,” he continued of the former UCLA guard. “College made me realize that if it’s a dream, it has to be a job. So now, I treat basketball like I am a pro, because I want to be a pro and I want to play as long as I can.”
Cohee adds that a lot of things had to happen in order to make UBC his best fit, and on cue, they all did, beginning with his ability to team with Clair at War Gym.
“It’s kind of like we kept this in our back pocket,” says Cohee. “I was like ‘OK, Roop, if you can get your eligibility, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll come to UBC. To be totally honest, if he didn’t get his eligibility here, there is no chance I would have come here. I would have stayed D1. I would have gone to a Power 5 school.”
In the end, it came down to UBC, Oregon and Santa Clara (with veteran coach Herb Sendek and its Steve Nash connections).
Much like Shephard did a season ago, Cohee turned down his NCAA Div. 1 suitors and picked the ‘Birds.
Cohee will pursue a master’s degree.
He will play in an international system that best suits his skills.
He gets two seasons instead of just one in the NCAA.
And with his experience and desire to lead, seems set to become the face of the program over the next two seasons.
Tipping the scales some 30 pounds heavier (195 pounds) than when he first left Canada, the added muscle makes you forget about the skinny prodigy who led the Walnut Grove Gators to their first B.C. AAAA title back in 2013.
He’s stronger is every tangible and intangible sense, and ready to embrace a challenge.
“A lot of people think I am throwing my career away because of the ridiculous number of offers I had,” he says. “But I want to take that risk. I think this will help me get exposure, to be able to do things I wouldn’t have been allowed to do at Div. 1. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Based on the reception he’s received from his new teammates, the feeling appears to be mutual.
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