For Jadon Cohee, the road to a headlining role in UBC basketball’s starting rotation was not a conventional one.
A product of Langley, BC, Cohee spent the first years of his post-secondary career playing NCAA Division I basketball, including seasons at Seattle University and most recently Southern Utah. He walked away at the end of last season as a highly respected point guard — one who outperformed a Southern Utah team that struggled in conference play, finishing with just a 5-13 record.
Within weeks of hitting the open market, Cohee found himself with offers outstanding from more than 45 Division I schools around the US, all looking to have him close out the final year of his NCAA eligibility in their uniform.
With all the recruitment hype and buzz surrounding his decision, Cohee made a move that shocked the collegiate sports world — he announced his intention to return to British Columbia and become a UBC Thunderbird.
“I wanted to make a decision — do I go play somewhere for a year and maybe it doesn’t work out or do I come somewhere where I grew up and my family can watch me play,” Cohee said. “I used to watch UBC games as a kid. I know a lot of people who played for coach Kevin Hanson, people speak highly of him and I knew if I was going to stay home, the only squad I would consider was probably UBC.”
Cohee’s signing with UBC came in tandem with the signing of another senior — former teammate and long-time friend Manroop Clair. The inking of the pair of Division I veterans marked the beginning of a new chapter for UBC men’s basketball.
Last season’s departure of notable seniors Conor Morgan, Phil Jalalpoor and Luka Zaharijevic left the Thunderbirds without much of their key leadership group. What remained, instead, was a young core that was packed with up-and-coming talent, highlighted with the likes of sophomores Mason Bourcier and Grant Shephard.
In this fresh-faced crew, Cohee saw an opportunity to take on a leadership role — one that is new and exciting.
“A lot of our best players are [in] second year, right — so it’s nice to be able to lead them and kind of help them through the way and explain to them, ‘It’s okay to mess up, we’re going to do this together, we’re going to figure everything out together,’” Cohee said. “I was always the young guy in Division I until last year, so I was always the one who had vets kind of pick me up and be patient with me and all that. And the biggest thing I’ve kind of learned is to be patient with these guys.”
But despite his ability to lead and the experience he brings to the squad, Cohee delivers much more than just intangibles. With the extra floor space of U Sports compared to Division I, Cohee has played dominant basketball throughout his debut season with the team.
An excellent isolation player and proficient scorer, Cohee averaged more than 19 points per game in the regular season, good for fourth highest in Canada West. He is currently riding a six-game, 20+ point scoring streak through the postseason.
This month, Cohee has been in UBC’s top two scorers in eight of their nine games, averaging 19.4 points per game, with his biggest points haul coming in UBC’s February 2 match up against the Alberta Golden Bears — he racked up 27 points that night, the most of any Thunderbirds by over 15 points.
Though his efforts earned him a spot on the Canada West First Team All-Star, the ever-competitive Cohee knows that doesn’t mean his work is done.
“It was exciting for me, like it’s cool, but it doesn’t really mean much for me, what is important to me is winning championships,” Cohee said of his all-star selection. “So, it’s nice to get an accolade like a First Team All-Star, but at the end of the day it’s an award and [basketball’s] a team sport, right? It’s about winning.”
That said, the fact that he is February’s Athlete of the Month isn’t lost on the guard.
“It’s Black History Month. You know, being a light skin, it’s exciting and I’m honored to get this award. It’s awesome.”
Despite being surrounded by young collegiate players, Cohee knows what the team is capable of and isn’t shy about his ultimate goal. He has just over one year of U Sports eligibility remaining, and wants to bring the national title back to UBC for the first time since 1972.
Now, down the stretch of his first year with the team, Cohee is well on his way as he leads the Thunderbirds to Halifax next weekend to compete in the U Sports Final 8 — the school’s first appearance in the championship since they played host to the tournament in 2016.
Though UBC enters the championship tournament as the fourth-ranked team in the nation, they do so rather quietly. Having dropped the Canada West final game to the reigning national champion Calgary Dinos, they enter Halifax as one of three teams who have qualified from the conference along with the Alberta Golden Bears. And for teams out east, unanimously, Calgary is the Canada West team to beat, not the Thunderbirds.
“They may be the best team in the country,” Cohee said of the Dinos. “To be the best team you’ve got to beat the best team … if we want to compete for a medal at nationals, we’ve got to be able to hang and beat teams like [that]. So, it’ll be exciting.”
Cohee, however, embraces the role of the underdog. For him, it makes victory all the sweeter.
“I would never count us out and then I mean I think a lot of people are sleeping [on] us, a lot of people didn’t expect us to make nationals, so I’m excited to just go there and kind of prove people wrong and show them what we can do,” Cohee said. “Hopefully we can make some noise at nationals and make the school proud.”
For Cohee, his first season playing basketball back in Canada has been a dream come true. He is an all-star calibre play with all-star calibre teammates and a chance to compete for glory on a national stage.
All eyes will be on him on Friday as he takes the court and gets one step closer to bringing a national championship back to UBC.
As he gets one step closer to bringing a championship back home.