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Cape Breton offers basketball refuge for Dorsey

Jimmy Dorsey

Vaughan Merchant/ Cape Breton University/Vaughan Merchant/ Cape Breton University

Everybody knew that Jimmy Dorsey had to get out of town.

His mother, his basketball coach – even Dorsey himself – realized that the fast lifestyle he had come to embrace while in high school in his hometown near Baltimore ran counterproductive to his dreams of a career as a basketball player.

The fact that he took his self-imposed exile as far as he did – relocating to the far reaches of the Canadian East Coast in order to pursue that goal – shows just how serious he was in straightening out his life.

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Four years later and having established himself as one of the top university players in Canada playing for tiny Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S., Dorsey can now look back with satisfaction that his unlikely odyssey was worth the effort.

"I came to a small town where I couldn't do nothing, really, which was fine," the 23-year-old point guard said. "In Sydney all you've got is snow, basketball and school. For a person who wants to succeed at basketball and to graduate you can't ask for a better place than that."

The small-town environment obviously agrees with the engaging Dorsey, who will lead the Capers into this weekend's Canadian Interuniversity Sports men's Final 8 national championship, which begins Friday in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place.

The Capers enter as the No. 2 seed after posting a 19-1 regular-season record and then knocking off Acadia to win the championship in Atlantic University Sport for the second time in four years.

Cape Breton will open the tournament with a game against the Lakehead Thunderwolves (No. 7), the bronze medalist from Ontario University Sports.

Dorsey was born in Baltimore and grew up in nearby Westminster, the oldest of three children being raised by a single mother.

Always a gifted basketball player, the slightly built 6-foot-2 point guard was a star in high school who was able to land a scholarship at Binghampton University, a Division 1 school in upstate New York, before trouble intervened.

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Another in a series of raucous house parties at Dorsey's home led to a police raid.

And although Dorsey said he was never charged with any criminal offence, school officials at Binghampton revoked his scholarship over concerns about the type of individual they were about to invite onto campus.

"I was kind of hanging around with the wrong people," Dorsey will now concede. "My friends, the crowd I had around me, wasn't the best crowd that anybody would want around them. They kind of brought me down after high school, just set me back."

After drifting for a year and doing little of anything, Dorsey landed at Howard Community College in nearby Columbia where he went to school and played basketball. The coach there at the time was Benny Edison, a former CIS player at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Realizing a talent was being wasted at the junior college level, Edison put a call out to a former Dalhousie coach, Jim Charters, who four years ago was running the program at Cape Breton. Edison put the two in touch and the following season Dorsey was playing for the Capers.

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Dorsey said. "I didn't even know Canada had colleges. I kind of laughed. I didn't know what to expect. My first day there I felt like I'd arrived in Alaska."

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The small-town fit has obviously worked. Dorsey averaged 20.8 points a game (fifth highest in the nation), 5.4 assists and 3.5 steals this season, and was chosen as the AUS most valuable player for the second consecutive year.

"The biggest adjustment was just dealing with everything on my own," Dorsey said. "Even when I was at junior college I was still kind of with my Mom nearby to drive me up groceries or my brother or sister to pick me up and take me somewhere.

"For me to come to a whole different place and not really have or know anybody, was just what I needed. It was a whole different lifestyle for me."

Coach Matt Skinn is in his first year at Cape Breton after four seasons coaching the women's team at St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S.

He said that Dorsey's behaviour has been exemplary, on and off the court.

"I think the best thing about him, with me being a first-year coach, he really bought into this system and everything we were doing, right from September on," Skinn said. "That was really great for us as a staff because when your best player and your hardest worker was on board it really helps the cause."

The Carleton Ravens are the overwhelming favourites heading in to the three-day event. The country's top-seeded team will be vying for its third successive CIS title.

Carleton and first-round opponent Victoria (No. 8) enter the 2013 tournament tied for most CIS men's basketball banners overall, with eight each.

"If you're looking at their history of success it looks pretty devious," Skinn said of Carleton. "I think in a one-game situation you play as hard as you can and hope to get a little bit lucky, too."

Acadia (No. 5) will take on University of British Columbia (No. 4) with Friday's other quarter-final game pitting Montreal's McGill Redmen (No. 6) against the Ottawa Gee-Gees (No. 3).

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