As a tyke, Jordan Korol was in and out of hospital with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
In her final year of high school girls basketball, with a possible final-four finish on the line, she got thrown another medical gremlin – an enlarged spleen – and was unable to play in the provincial Sweet 16.
Korol is taking the setback with smiles and looking ahead to life as a forward with the UBCO University Heat. The CIS Canada West team has also signed all-star Kelowna products Emma Johnson and Hannah Friesen, who played alongside Korol with the UBC O Junior Heat.
“I have a mono-like virus and I’m about two weeks away from training again,” said Korol on Easter Monday. “I haven’t been to school for a while. The symptoms are that I’m tired and have no energy.”
Korol, only one of two Grade 12s with the VSS Panthers, was diagnosed with the virus just before the B.C. playdowns. She made the trip anyways.
“Jordan probably should not have travelled to Langley but there was no way she was going to miss out on the basketball experience, and no way she was not going to be there for her teammates,” said VSS head coach Lonny Mazurak. “She is a class act and a true Panther. UBCO is lucky to have her.”
Korol, who played big minutes for the Cats, cheered from the bench as VSS placed 12th.
“It’s very tough to sit on the bench and not be able to play. It was very heartbreaking because we had worked so hard all season to get there.”
The 5-foot-11 Korol, who transfered to VSS from Kalamalka Lakers for Grade 11, joins a new-look Heat roster including head coach Claire Meadows.
Meadows, a 30-year-old from Brantford, Ont., will become the school’s second women’s basketball head coach since UBC Okanagan started Canada West and CIS competition in 2011. She replaces Heather Semeniuk, who held the position for the past 21 years.
Korol has enjoyed a few light conversations with Meadows, last seeing her at the Okanagan Valley high school all-star game two weeks ago. Korol played a few minutes.
“I chose UBCO because they just got a brand new coach and it’s a chance to really improve the program,” said Korol, who turns 18 in August. “They needed some forwards and I can provide that. I was looking to go to UVic (Victoria) possibly, but I decided that staying close to home and being part of a team where I knew the coach and players was an overall good choice.
“Claire has a clear drive of where she wants to take the program.”
Following a one-year assistant coach role with the University of Alberta Pandas, Meadows was hired by Basketball Alberta as head coach of the Alberta Center for Performance in the south. She has also spent the last three seasons as the lead assistant coach of the University of Lethbridge women’s Pronghorns. She is known for being defensive-oriented with emphasis on work ethic and communication.
Meadows, who offcially began working for UBCO on April 1, watched Korol at a light game-day VSS practice in January and pored over game film before asking for a commitment.
“Even from watching game film, I could see she was a great presence inside and she uses her body well which is a huge benefit,” said Meadows, who starred for Queen’s University Gaels in Kingston, finishing as captain and the Gaels’ second all-time leading scorer. “She has a high release which helps her away from the basketball. First of all, she’s a good student which is good; student before athletics. She’s keen and wants to get in the gym.”
Meadows plans to use Korol and Friesen up front on a team which was lacking in height. The new coach will hold an identification camp April 11.
“It’s important to recruit locally. You want to keep the local talent at home. When you are able to do that, you can really start to build a community and culture within your program.”
Korol believes she fine-tuned her skills and hoop genes enough under Mazurak to make the next step.
“He’s pushed me, and, under his coaching, I think I’ve learned a lot and improved. Coming here from Kal, I noticed a big difference. I thank him for that. I noticed watching the Heat that the game is much faster and there is a lot of contact in the post and I like contact, but I know I will be going up against some big girls so I really gotta force my way in there.”
Maz figures Korol will use talent to trump height at the CIS level.
“She will be a little under-sized against some CIS teams, but will make up for it with her strength and her ability to jump,” said Mazurak. “Some programs looked past her due to her height in the post; they will regret it. She is strong on the ball, uses her physical strength well and her athleticism at the position will make her difficult to defend in transition as well. She can knock down the outside shot consistently. Jordan is one of the best shot blockers I have coached.”
He says Korol’s positive attitude is infectious and makes her a valued teammate.
“She is a vocal leader who is positive with her teammates. She is easy to follow, and has a quiet confidence about her. She is very composed under pressure and is a firm believer in selflessness.”
Korol’s father, Kevin, is 6-foot-4 and was an All-Canadian from 1985-87 with the Vancouver Community College Falcons before joining the UBC Thunderbirds. Her mom, Ronalee (nee Thistlethwaite), played CIS for the Regina Cougars.
“I don’t think I’m growing any more, but I can get a little stronger,” laughed Jordan. “My parents and my grandpa (former rec league phenom Norm Korol) love watching me play and they give me lots of coaching and ideas on what to do out there. I’m just trying to carry on the tradition.”
She credits former Team Canada forward Reni Dolcetti with jumpstarting her hoop career at Kal.
“Mr. Dolcetti…he was the one who really got me into basketball. He showed such a passion and love for the game, I think that kind of grew into me. He’s one of my favourite coaches for sure.”
As for what she brings to the Heat, Korol said: “I will work very, very hard. I’ll be the hardest working kid out there. I don’t give up and I push myself and my teammates. I think I have a good attitude and that’s important; I’m a good team player.”
Korol played middle blocker in high school volleyball and enjoys mountain biking at Kal Provincial Park. When not in the UBCO gym this summer, she will train with Panther teammate Jordyn Cullum. She will study socialogy and pyschology towadds a bachelor of arts.
Those early years of battling leukemia helped her see the world in a wider spectrum of colours than most teens.
“I was diagnosed when I was about three. I spent a few years at (B.C.) Children’s Hospital and at Ronald McDonald House, getting over that, with my mom and dad. It was a tough time for sure, but it’s made me a better person. I look at life like you gotta live it to the fullest and really push myself to be the best I can be. I can’t imagine the stress it was on my parents. I’m glad they were there for me.”