LANGLEY — Patrick Jonas was such a bad shooter that his teammates called him Brick Squad.
He was only in the eighth grade at the time, a stage at which the cloth we’re actually cut from is still unwoven.
Yet the nickname carried an indelible sting.
Some five seasons later, however, hindsight reveals it to be a blessing of sorts for the ways in which it not only kindled an inner fire, but revealed in moments of extreme duress, his signature presence, one which would so consistently and so selflessly place team fortune ahead of everything else.
And nowhere was that presence so palpably alive as it was along the bench of the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers senior boys basketball team over its already-fabled 2018-19 campaign.
Perhaps, as we re-examine from a different perspective, one of the most stirring title runs of this season just past, you remember theirs?
Over the entire length of this past March’s B.C. Quad-A tournament, the Surrey team rallied to win all four of its games, including a miraculous 18-point comeback against Kelowna in the championship final, giving the school its first-ever provincial senior varsity boys basketball crown.
Perhaps what you didn’t know, however, was that the player who began the season representing the Panthers’ best combination of skill and leadership, the 6-foot-3 guard Jonas, was lost to the team for his entire Grade 12 year after suffering a torn left ACL in Lord Tweedsmuir’s very first game of the season.
“I am still emotional talking about this, but his story needs to be told for all of the young kids who might be struggling with their game but still want to be great,” begins his head coach Drew Gallacher, who brought Jonas into the program as the 12th man on his Grade 8 team in 2014-15 and helped him develop into the heart-and-soul leader of the senior varsity heading into his Grade 12 season.
“When he got hurt, there were tears in our dressing room and we thought we were done,” continued Gallacher, who following the B.C. championship win stepped down as head coach. “But he rallied us. He never missed a practice or a game unless he was rehabbing. He was our emotional leader right through to the end and he never waffled. He never showed weakness by feeling sorry for himself. He never shut himself down when so many others would have.”
In fact if you ask Jonas, he will admit that he had set an ambitious goal to be back on the floor with his teammates at the provincial tournament.
And to him, there was going to be a big-picture benefit whether he made it or not.
“I knew in my head that if my teammates saw me giving it my all after tearing my ACL, that they would all elevate their own games,” he said.
It’s a perspective not every 18-year-old has, and it will serve Patrick Jonas well when he begins his university career this fall in Manitoba with the Brandon Bobcats.
“You get a vibe in the first two-to-three minutes that you talk to him that you’re speaking with a special kid,” says Gil Cheung, the former Richmond Colts’ standout guard whose 10th season at the helm of the Bobcats program will begin with Jonas taking a redshirt season to continue his physical healing.
“There’s something about the way he carries himself and the way he talks about family,” Cheung continued. “You can hear how important all of that is to him, and how much he supports his teammates. It all speaks volumes to who he is.”
THE KARMA OF FAMILY BUSINESS
Patrick Jonas never developed a love for golf, the sport both of his parents played professionally.
His father, Philip Jonas, initially gained fame after winning world junior championship titles in 1974 and 1976 before later joining the PGA tour.
His mother, Patty Jonas, is a two-time B.C. Amateur champion and three-time PGA of B.C. champion.
“My parents know that golf is not for me,” their son says.
Yet that’s not to say that golf hasn’t helped Patrick Jonas immensely, especially as it pertains to the perspective his parents have been able to impart on both he and his older sister Emma, who last season as a third-year guard, started 16 games for the OUA’s York Lions.
“The amount of knowledge they have been able to pass along has been great,” Patrick Jonas says of his parents. “I am sure it’s more than most kids’ parents have. The help they have given myself and my sister to be able to be at our best has been crazy.
“When I got hurt, it was really tough for the first month,” he continued, “but my parents convinced me that it wasn’t the end. They made me realize that I couldn’t let this beat me mentally.”
But golf has further helped Jonas’ basketball journey in another very unusual way.
“It’s a pretty funny story, but my parents both teach golf at Hazelmere,” Jonas says of the Surrey course. “My mom watched the 2012 London Olympics and she knew that Allison and Mike McNeill coached the Canadian women’s (basketball) team there. Well, it just so happens that Mike and Allison play (at Hazelmere) and one day they all met on the driving range.”
Gallacher had been encouraging Jonas to seek as much outside help as he could get during his so-called ‘Brick Squad’ phase, and so a deal was struck.
“My parents would give the McNeills golf lessons, and the trade-off was that they would coach both Emma and myself,” chucked Jonas.
The results, not surprising based on the world-class resumes of the husband and wife team who also previously guided Oregon Ducks women’s basketball, was spectacular.
“I was the worst shooter on my team in Grade 8, but they taught me,” Jonas begins. “They broke everything down. They taught me to be creative and that was the biggest thing. There are so many players who just cut-and-paste moves from the NBA. But the McNeills taught me that you have to know how to react. There aren’t so much moves to learn as there are fundamentals and ways to use them within the game.”
None of this came overnight, yet Jonas toiled for years, and as he mastered what both the McNeills and Gallacher were teaching him about the game, he also grew in confidence. And as the two dove-tailed over a productive summer of 2018 he spent filling it up with the AthElite club program, it seemed a forgone conclusion that he was set for a monster senior season.
“When you saw that shot, it was the closest thing to Klay Thompson,” Gallacher says, referencing the multi-level approach to the craft taken by the Golden State superstar.
“The McNeills worked on three things with him,” Gallacher continued.”His balance, his rhythm and his release. With all of his muscle memory, both his confidence and his range were off the charts.”
Cheung didn’t need to be sold.
“He can shoot it,” the Brandon coach said. “That is his one skill that would transfer right away, his ability to stand in at the university level and make a three.”
THE DEFINITION OF PRESENCE
Patrick Jonas remembers the precise moment at which basketball became the passion of his life.
“It was back in Grade 8 and we had just lost in the B.C. semifinals,” he remembers of falling to East Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Tigers at Pitt Meadows Secondary. “It was about a half hour after the game and I was still there crying. I hadn’t even played in the game. I learned that day that if it’s something that means that much to me, then I have to pursue this.”
He was able to see a bit more playing time in his Grade 9 season, and that year, Lord Tweedsmuir won its age-group Grade 9 B.C. title.
By Grade 11, he was starting, and the build-up towards his Grade 12 season gave every hint that a B.C. senior varsity title was within reach.
Of course the unflappable MVP-to-be Arjun Samra would be there, as would fellow seniors Alex Le, Austin Swedish and Elijah Devison, along with Grade 11s Jackson Corneil and Josh Hamulas.
And despite his early-season injury, Jonas had worked hard on his goal of a return to the court prior to the provincials with physiotherapist Danielle Langford, the former star Simon Fraser point guard.
In a late-January league game against visiting W.J. Mouat, Jonas made his return, and despite not having played in two months, that shooting stroke showed no rust.
In just a handful of minutes off the bench, Jonas hit on all three of his three-point attempts and even took it inside a pair of times for layups, leaving the game with 14 points and the thought that he was back.
The next night, however, in his team’s opener at Vancouver College’s Emerald Tournament against Oak Bay, Jonas pushed the envelope a little too far.
“I was a bit too confident,” he admits now. “I played a lot. I was running the fast break. I shouldn’t have been doing it, but I saw a lane, took a dribble and tried to get an and-one. I stepped with my left knee and it just buckled. It was devastating.”
All the while, there was still no resolution on his university future. U Sports schools that were interested in him at the end of his Grade 11 season simply dropped their interest after he got hurt.
“So I e-mailed practically every school in the country,” said Jonas. “I told them my story and all I asked them for was a redshirt spot and the chance to prove myself. A couple replied but none were really interested.”
Gallacher knew Cheung, however, and wrote a heartfelt letter to the Brandon head coach on Jonas’ behalf.
One day ahead of his April 4 knee surgery, Jonas got an offer from the Bobcats.
“They said they were willing to take a chance on me,” said Jonas, “It was such a relief. My entire perspective on life has changed since my injury. You only have so much time in life, and you can’t dwell on the past. It just holds you back.”
For his part, Cheung is thrilled.
“We’re taking a chance on him, but he is taking a chance on us as well by coming half-way across the country,” the coach says. “I saw his video, and because he has so many intangibles… when we find someone who brings all of that and can impact our culture and our team room, we have to feel lucky.
“If he had gone on to have a great year (in the PacWest) at Douglas or Langara, then we would have no shot at him,” Cheung adds of the Canada West schools from B.C. who would line up for his services. “I know when he gets healthy, no one will outwork him, so we hope that we stole a kid out of B.C.”
In the seconds after the Panthers won the B.C. title last March at the Langley Events Centre, Gallacher found his valiant senior.
“When the final whistle went, one of the first people I looked at was Patrick,” he says. “I get emotional talking about it. This kid had a dream since Grade 8 to win the (senior) provincials but then he couldn’t (play) because of his injury.
“Still, we lived vicariously through his positivity, and it was his faith in us being able to live out a dream that put us over the top in terms of positive energy,” Gallacher continued. “We were down in every game of the championships but no one every pointed a finger. All we talked about was our belief in each other and the faith we had in winning it. And that was all because of Patrick Jonas.”
(Make sure you check in at VarsityLetters.ca on Friday as our B.C. Recruits List turns its focus to the hundreds of B.C. boys and girls players who, just like Patrick Jonas, will begin their university careers next season)
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