VANCOUVER — When Jordan Jensen-Whyte began his career with the UBC Thunderbirds in the fall of 2012, he was standing in shadows deep enough to resemble the cover of night.
Two seasons previous, older brother Josh Whyte had completed a three-season career so complete that when the younger sib took his first steps onto the court at War Memorial Gymnasium, his high-tops must have seemed three sizes too big.
“Josh was the national Player of the Year for us,” UBC’s 17-year head coach Kevin Hanson begins of the player who helped the ‘Birds to reach three straight CIS Finals 4’s and two national finals. “He left a legacy for us. But now Jordan has been here for five years, and he’s played more minutes for UBC than any player I have ever coached. And I’m so proud because he’s leaving as his own man, with his own legacy.”
As the No. 2-ranked ‘Birds (17-1) held their annual Seniors Night festivities Saturday night in the bowels of War following a sweep of Prince George’s UNBC Timberwolves, recognizing the accomplishments of graduating players Jensen-Whyte, Will Ondrik and Harpreet Randhawa in their last regular-season home games, it was hard not to think that an era was ending.
In eight of the last nine seasons including the current one, UBC has had one of the brothers on the its roster. First Whyte from 2008-09 to 2010-11, and then after one season without, Jensen-Whyte from 2012-13 to the present.
There are still two Canada West regular-season games remaining, this Friday and Saturday in Langley against the Trinity Western Spartans, and after that, a potential playoff run with the kind of team talented enough to end a 45-year national championship dryspell.
But as the tally stands now, the brothers from Calgary have played a total of 266 games for UBC, going 205-61 overall. Josh’s ‘Birds went 90-15 over a three-year span, while Jordan’s have gone 115-46 the past four-plus seasons.
And while they never got the chance to play together, they were together in Vancouver when it mattered most.
Josh arrived in town in time to help honour his baby brother, and when it came time for Jordan to speak about their bond following Saturday’s game, cheekbones rattled in even the most stoic of the group. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Let us examine the two sides of Jordan Jensen-Whyte’s basketball brain.
Distinctly different, one has subconsciously paid homage to the influence of older brother Josh, while the other has relied on a more conventional natural instinct and remains uniquely its own.
Back in the day, before he had even become a star at Calgary’s Western Canada High, Jordan had become his older brother’s biggest fan. But he didn’t just try to imitate parts of Josh’s game. Instead, he inhaled the entire bouquet whole, including the fact that Josh was a natural left-handed shooter and he wasn’t.
In fact it was such a natural instinct to go against his natural right-handedness, that believe it or not, Jordan was unaware that he was doing anything unconventional. He just thought that to be the best, he had to do everything his brother was doing.
“I was trying to be like Josh so it just happened,” laughs the now 6-foot-6 Jensen-Whyte. “But it wasn’t a distinct thing that I thought to myself. I was just trying to emulate everything he did because he was my hero. It wasn’t meant as a tribute. But looking back on it all now, it’s symbolic. It’s a sign of how much impact he has had on my life.”
Osmosis is the ultimate show of respect.
And thus you could say that for Jordan Jensen-Whyte, it always felt right to shoot left, even though he never left his right hand behind.
Study the tape and you’ll see one of the most unusual repertoires in all of college and university basketball.
Jensen-Whyte shoots jump shots with left hand, but when he drives for layups, or finishes off second-chance opportunities in close, he almost always uses his right hand.
“It’s very confusing to many people,” he explains of his ambidextrous ability.
Hanson, two seasons ago, admiring the natural mechanics of Jensen-Whyte’s right-hand shot, made an attempt to get him to switch permanently to his natural hand.
“But his older brother was such an influence on him,” smiles Hanson. “You might see this in other sports like golf or baseball. But I’ve never seen it before in basketball.”
His jumper is for Josh, while the rest is his own.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Josh Whyte always knew his brother was a player.
Yet a few years removed from the UBC scene following a pro career in the United Kingdom, he didn’t get the true flavour of what Jordan had come to mean to the school’s hoops community until he attended the CIS Final 8 last March at the Doug Mitchell Arena.
“I didn’t know the level of respect my brother was getting,” Josh said, after seeing the crowd respond to Jordan’s game-high 25 points during UBC’s 109-101 tournament-opening overtime loss to No. 1-seeded Ryerson. “He blew my mind and gained all the respect from me, because I had never gotten to see him in those kinds of high-pressure moments.”
As a vital part of the last near-decade of UBC men’s basketball, the brothers have teamed with some of the program’s most talented players ever.
Chris Dyck, Conor Morgan, Kamar Burke, Tommy Nixon, Kyle Watson, Brent Malish, Tonner Jackson, Blain LaBranche, Nathan Yu, Alex Murphy, Graham Bath. The list goes on.
But brother combos this talented? Brother combos who each achieve all-Canadian status?
Big brother is proud of both of their on-court accomplishments, but as chapters close, there comes a realization that larger lessons were learned.
“The biggest thing I see is the kind of person he has become from his first to his fifth year,” Josh says of Jordan. “He’s humble, and he is happy to have played in such a prestigious program under Kev. You learn and you grow. That’s what it did for me. I left as a better person. And so will he.”
And so when the time came to talk about his brother on Saturday night, Jordan scrapped his notes and went off script.
“It was a big moment for me because he’s been the guy I’ve looked up to my whole life,” he says. “I had written down the words to say, but in that moment, it all came straight from the heart. It was the moment that I could thank him for everything.”
Jordan Jensen-Whyte has long since stepped out of his brother’s shadow, but never far enough out of range to lose the meaning of a lefty triple or a right-handed bank off the window.
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