Plumb takes long basketball journey to N.L.

As the crow flies, it’s almost 7,500 kms from Port Moody to St. John’s, N.L. As Doug Plumb bounces a basketball, it might be six times that distance.

To say Plumb, 29, has had a long and curious journey to Canada’s eastern-most city where he was recently named the head coach of the St. John’s Edge professional basketball team that plays in the National Basketball League of Canada, would be an understatement.

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Hold on, there’s professional basketball in Newfoundland?

Wait, it gets better.

To get to St. John’s, Plumb first made stops to play professionally in Hungary and Romania.

A curious journey indeed.

Although there was never any doubt in Plumb’s mind that he wanted basketball to lead the way, even if he did waver a few times.

Plumb embarked early, travelling from his family’s home in Port Moody to middle school in Pitt Meadows so he could eventually play basketball for legendary high school coach Rich Goulet. But before he got that chance, he decided to move with his dad, Norm, to Minnesota, where basketball is a bigger deal at the high school level than in Canada and he’d have a greater likelihood of getting the attention of college scouts.

The team Plumb played for, in Hastings — a small city of about 22,000 along the Mississippi River — wasn’t very good and he struggled at first. 

But after a summer working on his game in Minnesota’s Elite Youth Basketball League, Plumb returned with a knack for shooting three-pointers and the Raiders became a top-five high school team in the state.

“I put everyone on notice,” Plumb said.

Between his junior and senior seasons, an opportunity presented itself for Plumb to fulfill his childhood dream to play for Goulet through the Basketball BC provincial program where he was a coach. So Plumb moved back home for the summer.

But that decision took him off the radar of college scouts who closely monitor the way prospects develop in the highly-competitive summer youth leagues.

The next winter in Minnesota, Plumb said he felt lost for much of his senior season. While his teammates were signing scholarship offers from big Division 1 college programs, the best pitch he got was from a smaller second division school. 

Plumb accepted, but his U.S. college basketball experience didn’t live up to the hype. Crowds were modest, there was no TV coverage, yet the pressure to perform as an expensive out-of-state player was constant.

“I was pretty much down in the dumps,” Plumb said.

He was also homesick for B.C. 

Plumb came home and agreed to sit out half a year so he could play at the University of the Fraser Valley where the Cascades’ coach, Barnaby Craddock, reignited his passion for basketball.

A knee injury sidelined Plumb, and when Craddock took a job at the University of Alberta, he was again at loose ends.

A gig coaching a kids’ program at the University of British Columbia opened Plumb’s eyes to the possibility of playing there. After taking a year off to improve his grades, he became the Thunderbirds’ shooting guard in his junior season.

Plumb’s three-year run at UBC, from 2011 to 2013, was successful. He was the team’s captain, a CIS second team all-star, and the Thunderbirds made it to the national championships. But as his college career wound down, he was at another crossroads.

Plumb had long ago put to bed any notion of making the NBA, but he had no idea how to pursue a pro career in Europe.

“I knew I was good enough to play,” he said. “I just needed an in.”

An assistant coach at UBC, Spencer McKay, was that in.

McKay connected Plumb to one of the teams he’d played for through his own 16-year journey across Europe, Mexico and Taiwan, and after graduating, Plumb signed a contract with Zalakeramia-ZTE in Hungary’s A Division.

It was an eye-popping experience, Plumb said. At one game against a nearby rival, fans almost rioted in the packed 4,000-seat arena after he was decked by a much larger defender from the visiting team.

“You’re thinking, ‘I’m in the middle of Eastern Europe, what the hell am I doing here?’” Plumb said.

Though hobbled by an off-season training injury to his Achilles, Plumb played well enough to earn a contract for a second season. But the money wasn’t great, about $3,500 US a month.

Back home in B.C. for the off-season, an old buddy in marketing for Nike offered Plumb a chance to earn some extra income helping out with a travelling road show to build the shoe company’s basketball brand. The tour was a success, and when that buddy eventually quit his Nike gig, they decided to create Vancouver Basketball Academy to cultivate and develop young players in the Lower Mainland through summertime combines and camps.

Plumb finished out his contract in Hungary, then signed to play in Romania, where he lived in Transylvania.

As the Academy took shape Plumb learned a lot about marketing and started dabbling in coaching. He enjoyed working with the young players, infusing in them the work ethic and perseverance that fuelled his journey through basketball.

When another opportunity to sign for a second division club in France came up, Plumb decided to stay home in B.C. instead and go all in on building the Academy to go across Canada and into the U.S.

Plumb said in addition to the coaching aspect of the job, his marketing and social media efforts to grow the business kept him in basketball’s inner sphere, where he landed a position as an assistant coach and head scout for the London, Ont., Lightning of NBL Canada.

Founded in 2011, the league had grown from four to 10 teams by 2017, all of them in smaller cities east of Windsor, Ont., like Kitchener, Oshawa, Halifax, Moncton and Sydney, Nova Scotia. Plumb said it fills a need to provide jobs for top Canadian and American basketball players who can’t quite scratch their way onto an NBA roster but aren’t willing to head to Europe. That includes several top U.S. college and Canadian national team players.

In London, Plumb helped guide the Lightning to a league final and then the first of two consecutive championships.

“I figured out I really have a passion for coaching, and I’m good at it,” Plumb said.

Then in 2017, just a few weeks before Plumb was to start his third season in London, he got a call from former Canadian National team stalwart, and longtime European pro, Carl English. The 37-year-old was looking to take one last kick at his career by returning to his hometown of St. John’s to play for the Edge, a new franchise in the NBLC, and he wanted to know if Plumb was interested in coming along as an assistant to head coach Jeff Dunlap.

Plumb said the city has embraced the team, frequently selling out the 4,500 seats in the Mile One Centre.

“You’re the hot ticket in town,” he said.

And while St. John’s may be an outpost in the basketball world, it’s a heck of a lot more familiar than living and playing in Transylvania.

“You can speak English,” Plumb said.

With the recent departure of Dunlap back to the NCAA from whence he’d come, Plumb’s ready to take on his first assignment as a head coach.

“If you love the day-to-day of the journey, the rest takes care of itself,” he said.

mbartel@tricitynews.com

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