WAR MEMORIAL GYM - This past Friday was Senior’s Night at UBC for the Men’s Basketball Team. While it may have been overshadowed by the “Courtside” Game activities and the rowdy atmosphere, for the graduating players and teammates this game meant much more. This was the last regular season game and the very last time Conor Morgan, Luka Zaharijevic, and Phil Jalalpoor would play a season game on their home floor. Graduating players were subbed out one at a time to end the game to standing ovations from the fans which was great, but the ceremonies after the game where players, coaches, past teammates, alumni, friends, and family all gathered to share stories and memories was what was truly special. Vancouver Basketball was fortunate enough to receive an invite to go behind the scenes with the team and be a part of the Senior Night Celebrations.
A quick glance of the final box score reveals only one aspect of the leadership that Phil, Conor and Luka bring to the game and Thunderbird program. The three players would be the three top scorers for UBC, with Phil going for 36 points (seven 3’s), Conor with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Luka coming up just short of a double-double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. This kind of production will surely be missed by the Thunderbirds next year.
Each player has their own unique Senior Story and the journey they undertook to complete their five years of USport eligibility. We reviewed their careers and talked to them as they reflected on their time at UBC.
Phil Jalalpoor is the relative newcomer to the Thunderbird program. Originally, from Germany, he transferred to UBC from Olds College in Alberta three years ago. He was immediately thrust into a starting role for the Thunderbirds and was forced to learn on the USport game on the job. He shared back court duties with Jordan Jensen-Whyte for the past two years, where the dual guard combo allowed Phil to distribute the ball and manage the game and also play off-ball as a scoring threat. This past year, Phil was given “the keys to the car” and would be relied on as a primary ball handler while being asked to contribute regularly in the score column. He would respond by averaging nearly 30 minutes a night, scoring 17.3 points, grabbing 5.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. His senior year also included his career high of 41 points where he knocked down 11/17 from beyond the arc against versus Saskatchewan and a spot on the USport Academic All-Canadian Team.
When asked to reflect on his time at UBC Phil had this to say:
“I personally had a great time at UBC. The Thunderbird athlete community is with no doubt the best in Canada with all the support from professional nutrition consultations to massage therapy. Being able to finish my college career at this program means a lot to me and I will always be proud to be part of this great alumni group. This Senior Night was a bittersweet one for me since playing in college at such a high level is a lot of fun, but I am also excited for what's next and what else the world has in store for me. I am very thankful to have been given this opportunity to wear a Thunderbird jersey and want to thank every single person that has been a part of my journey here. Go Thunderbirds!”
For Luka Zaharijevic, dedication, perseverance, and patience would be the words the represent his journey. Despite starring in high school for the Kitsilano Blue Demons, Luka came to a Thunderbird team that was very deep in the front court, with more senior players like David Wagner, Brylle Kamen, Tonner Jackson, and Tommy Nixon. The result? A total of 57 minutes played in his first season with the Thunderbirds, a total he probably amassed in two high school games at Kitsilano. His second year, he would see the court in more games and for more minutes, but still short of what he was used to. Luka would continue to improve and in his third year, he had now established himself as a solid bench player and he doubled his total playing time from the year before. Come his fourth and fifth year, when players are supposed to peak, Luka did just that. In his fourth year Luka split time starting and coming off the bench averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. This past year, Luka would step into a full time starting role averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting an incredible 66% from the field.
A true five-year player, Luka had this to say about the past five years:
“The past 5 years at UBC have not only developed me into the player and student that I am today, but have also shaped me into the person that I have evolved to and have built my character greatly. Wearing the blue and gold and representing such a prestigious university was an honour, as I have truly cherished the opportunities that I have been blessed with. The relationships and friendships that I have had with my teammates throughout my time here have been extraordinary, especially with all the trips and travelling that we got to do. I had a great journey and a tremendous experience as a Thunderbird, and I will miss it. Nonetheless, the best part is that this isn’t the end to my basketball career, instead it is only the beginning of a new chapter and hopefully there are many more years to come. I thank Kev, Spence, Vern, D-Money (Dahman), Doc and all the staff and teammates for their support and companionship over the past half-decade.”
Lastly, there is Conor Morgan - labelled the “Dad” of the team. Conor has spent the past six years at UBC (one year as a medical redshirt). In his first year, Conor already began to play key reserve minutes coming off the bench for the Thunderbirds, but he only averaged only 4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. In his true second year, Conor was forced to sit out the season due to injury. Returning from injury, Conor moved to a full time starting role with the Thunderbirds and would post averages of 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. In his third year he averaged 16 points and 6.9 rebounds, before jumping to 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds on 57% shooting in his fourth year and being named a USport First Team All-Canadian. This past year, his fifth and final, he has averaged 22.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, increased his assist output while still shooting above 50% from the field. In his final game, Conor would score 27 points - making his regular season career total 1,526 points and good enough for second all-time in UBC history.
Looking back at his time at UBC and as a Thunderbird Conor left Vancouver Basketball with this:
“Coming into UBC I was an 18 year-old kid and I’m now leaving a 23 year-old man. The people and relationships that I have made along the way have been the most amazing part. Wrapping up my UBC career last weekend was emotional, however I am very excited as I get to the next chapter of my life.”
Congratulations to Conor, Luka, and Phil on the completion of their regular season careers and best of luck as you head into playoffs and battle for a shot at the USport National Championship. Vancouver Basketball wishes you nothing but the best in whatever your next pursuit is.