BURNABY — Jasdeep Singh had a pretty distinct nickname during his teenage years while playing club basketball for Drive Elite.
“He was so tall playing at guard that we called him Magic Johnson,” Drive coach and founder Pasha Bains remembered fondly on Thursday of the 6-foot-8 Simon Fraser Clan junior, who these days has evolved into one of the most unique talents in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
“He played 100s of games for us, but he wanted nothing to do with playing centre,” continued Bains. “He played like a guard, and he owned his outside game.”
On Saturday (7 p.m.), however, as the Clan (3-3) return home to the cozy confines of the West Gym to begin a two-game homestand against Portland’s Concordia Cavaliers (1-5), Singh’s singular focus has since widened to embrace all aspects of play, including that of thriving within the court’s painted areas.
Singh, now in his second season with the Clan after one season spent at NAIA Northwest University in Kirkland (Wash.), sits in the top 25 on nine different GNAC statistical leaderboards, including scoring (15.3 ppg), rebounding (5.3 rpg), free throw (.789) and three-point (.407) percentage, assists (2.5 apg) and blocks (0.8 bpg).
Hear all of that, and it seems like he never really outgrew the old nickname, especially when it comes to a big guard bringing multi-positional versatility like the real Magic Johnson did when as a rookie, he replaced an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals and led the Los Angeles Lakers past thebPhiladelphia 76ers .
Of course Singh’s arrival atop Burnaby Mountain has been clearly less dramatic, yet it’s foolhardy to believe that he hasn’t played a huge role in the Clan’s rise from perennial GNAC cellar-dwellers to its current playoff-contending status.
Simon Fraser head coach Steve Hanson says the program wasn’t recruiting heavily at Singh’s position three seasons ago as he came out of high school at Ladner’s Delta Secondary.
But after a coaching change early in his freshman season down south, Singh decided to come back home, and since he moved into the starting line-up atop Burnaby Mountain almost exactly a year ago, the Clan have gone 11-11 in regular-season conference games.
With starting guards Michael Provenzano and Othniel Spence established backcourt vets, and power players Julian Roche and Wilfried Balata thriving in the paint, Singh has landed in the perfect position for his multi-skilled persona, bridging the front and back court units.
Growing up with the physical 6-foot-7 Jake Cowley, his former Delta Pacers and Drive teammate currently playing at CCAA Vancouver Island University, and later with Cowley and ex-St. George’s big man Jacob van Santen (6-foot-10) at Drive, Singh more often than not found himself facing the basket while the other two handled the majority of the post play.
“The Drive coaches always wanted me to post, but we had Jacob and Jake and those two guys played by the rim, so I spaced out floor,” Singh says.
“And ever since we were just young kids playing in the yard together, I was always the guard and Jake would always set the screen.”
With the Pacers, however, under the guidance and encouragement of the late coach Kenny Ryan, Singh was able to get a better idea of just how versatile he could be at the next level.
“I looked in the mirror one day, and I just realized that I’m tall, and so I started to watch film on guys in the post with their jump hooks and their fadeaways,” said Singh.
It’s a mindset that has made him a plus-plus player in terms of versatility.
“It comes down to his ball-handling,” says Hanson. “Jas is very comfortable lefty and righty, and with his spin moves in lane. If teams don’t double him, he gets to the rim. He’s put a lot of work into his body and he’s got the confidence. And the triple-whammy to it all is his ability to pass it in the post. In our (75-57) win against Central Washington, they doubled him all game and (with five assists in just 25 minutes) he got Julien a lot of key baskets. He’s a triple threat.”
Last season, with the Clan sitting at 1-5 in the conference and starter Graham Miller fighting through post-injury pain, Hanson elected to give Singh his first GNAC start in what was an 89-81 loss at Western Washington.
“I was talking to my assistants after the game and I said ‘Jas played lot tonight,’” remembers Hanson, who was then told that Singh had actually played all 40 minutes.
In the 20 GNAC regular-season conference games since, the Clan are 11-9 with Singh in the starting lineup.
“I think it’s a testament to his confidence in himself,” said Hanson of Singh’s ability to so seamlessly join the starting group last season. “And it’s a good lesson to all of our young players that you have to stay ready.”
And just like the Clan is a perfect fit for his skills, so too was that Drive Elite team, a group the former Clemson Tiger Bains calls one of his club’s best ever.
It not only featured Cowley, van Santen and UBC football player Marcus Browne up front, but Kitsilano’s Luka Lizdek and Walnut Grove’s Ty Rowell at the guard spots.
“We would tease him and call him Magic Johnson,” joked Bains, “but he still wanted to play the perimetre game. But maybe he was smarter than all of us. People don’t realize how high a level (Simon Fraser) plays at. And watching him now, he’s playing just like he played at Drive.”
Maybe it’s time to dust off the old nickname?
(SFU also hosts Western Oregon in a 12:30 p.m. tip on Monday.)
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