University basketball: SFU-UBC grudge match a ‘Buchanan boost’ for Canadian post-secondary sports

‘This is building up kids to stay here for university and play at home instead of going somewhere in the U.S. This is showing kids what is possible here’

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Mike Bell is conflicted about who to root for in the Buchanan Cup men’s basketball showdown between the Simon Fraser University Red Leafs and University of B.C. Thunderbirds.

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But he’s certain about what Friday’s game at War Memorial Gymnasium (7:30 p.m.) means. 

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Bell is coach of the high school powerhouse Burnaby South Rebels and says that the Buchanan Cup, taking place for a second straight year after UBC and SFU played just once in the 10 seasons prior, is a showcase for the sport in the province and should be something that young players in B.C. aspire to be a part of.

For what it’s worth, UBC brass were reporting Thursday that the game was nearing a sellout. War Memorial lists capacity at 2,176.

“This is building up kids to stay here for university and play at home instead of going somewhere in the U.S.,” Bell said. “This is showing kids what is possible here.”

Burnaby South won its second straight Quad A boys hoops provincial crown and third in four years last spring at the Langley Events Centre, beating the Semiahmoo Thunderbirds 72-57 in the finale. 

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Rebels guard Jimmy Zaborniak was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He’s part of the Red Leafs’ incoming class. Burnaby South centre Karan Aujla was picked Quinn Keast Foundation player of the game for the title match-up. He’s one of the newcomers on the T-Birds this season.

That explains Bell’s uncertainty when asked about who he’ll be pulling for come Friday.

“We’ll be cheering for both teams,” he said.

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There are assorted other connections between the two programs. Trixie Cruz may well have the closest. She has a son on UBC in third-year guard Jack Cruz-Dumont. She has another son on SFU in sophomore guard Hunter Cruz-Dumont.

Hunter is battling an injury and isn’t expected to play Friday, which should at least knock down the stress level a touch for mom.

The brothers both saw action last year when SFU beat UBC 90-82 before a sold-out crowd of 1,600 at West Gym atop Burnaby Mountain.

Cruz is a former hoops standout herself at UBC, as was her late husband John Dumont. SFU and UBC teams in assorted sports used to play regularly when both athletic programs were members of the Canada West Conference, but it’s become harder to schedule match-ups after SFU jumped to the NCAA Div. II in 2010.

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Simon Fraser University Red Leafs vs. UBC Thunderbirds

7:30 p.m., War Memorial Gymnasium. Web: UBC Thunderbirds YouTube channel.

SFU was a member of the NAIA prior to coming to Canada West, and they would play UBC then, too.

UBC is 18-16-1 versus SFU in Buchanan Cup games. The teams played their first game of any sort in 1965. They have had various non-Buchanan games over the years.

“I love the fact the cross-town rivalry is back on the schedule and that my kids get to experience what both their dad and myself experienced when we used to play for UBC back in the day,” she said in an email interview. “However, being happy for the one who wins while empathizing with the one that loses is the tricky part.

“This year will be a little easier. The head-to-head brother match-up on the floor will not happen like it did last year and I won’t have to worry about one brother stealing the ball from the other or blocking a shot.”

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She plans to sit with UBC alumni at War Memorial but insists she’ll be cheering on every bucket scored by either team.

“Basically I am Switzerland,” she said.

Cruz has been coaching with the Vancouver College Fighting Irish in recent years and she, like Bell, believes the Buchanan Cup can be a spark for basketball in B.C. 

“I wish there was more attention in the local news that regularly supported our high school and university athletes like they do in the United States,” Cruz said. “The basketball community has grown enormously over the years and for local kids to know that there is a game right in their own backyard with two of the best universities in the country playing one another is priceless. UBC and SFU have such storied histories. It is a shame more people are not aware of this.”

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Yet another link between the two programs is that UBC coach Kevin Hanson and SFU athletic director Theresa Hanson are married. The couple met when they were assistant coaches with the men’s and women’s teams at SFU in the late 1980s and then worked together at Langara and UBC before Theresa took the post at SFU in October 2015.

The Hansons have been to enough games at War Memorial over the years that they have favourite seats there. Kevin said earlier this week that Theresa wouldn’t tell him whether she’d be sitting in them Friday.

“It’s like a playoff game,” Kevin said of the match-up. “People are excited. I’m hearing a lot about it.”

Both Hanson and his SFU counterpart Steve Hanson (no relation) seem adamant about having the game as an annual event, which is obviously paramount in continuing. It was held three weeks later last season, and Steve Hanson says that’s closer to optimal for SFU’s season, but the teams couldn’t make it work like that this time around. UBC (6-0) is further along in its schedule than SFU (0-1) going into the game.

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The game will be broadcast on UBC Thunderbirds YouTube Channel, with former Province sports reporter Howard Tsumura and longtime high school coach Paul Eberhardt handling the play-by-play and analysis.

Prior to last year, SFU and UBC hadn’t played since a 101-71 UBC win on Oct. 27, 2015. Prior to that, it was a 78-68 T-Bird win on March 6, 2010.

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