As we move forward on the road to the 2018 U SPORTS Men’s Basketball Final 8, it’s important to recognize the rich, long-standing history that’s helped shape this year’s 2017-2018 Acadia Axemen. It’s evident that the program with the most AUS Championships (17) and tied for 6th all-time in national titles (3) isn’t going to Halifax to ‘participate’.
With that, it’s vital to identify those who have gone through the program and kept that winning culture ongoing. All-Canadians, MVP’s, record-holders, National-team members, NBA draft-picks (3), all have come and gone, but these few helped make Acadia University basketball what it is today.
In our segment of #RoadToNationals, we sat down with four alumni to have them describe what Acadia University means to them and what it was like playing for the program.
Furthermore, over a span of 40 years will be described in detail: Owen Klassen ‘14, Savior Joseph ’02, Don Ehler ’83, Steve Pound ’72.
Klassen is currently playing for s.Oliver Wurzburg in Germany’s first division professional league. He began his professional career in 2014, following his final season with the Axemen.
He has represented Canada at the 2011 Pan American Games, 2013 FISU Universiade Games and is a current member of the Senior Men’s National team attempting to qualify for the FIBA World Cup. In Klassen’s final year at Acadia, he averaged 20 PPG and 10.6 rebounds, all while shooting 56% from the field.
Describe your basketball background and the opportunities/accomplishments you’ve been a part and/or accumulated.
“At first, I never thought about a future in basketball. Around the end of 10th grade/ early 11th grade I started getting interest from universities in Canada and in the US; as a result, I focused more on improving my game when I realized that I could use basketball as a stepping stone to fully or even partially finance my education. I ended up choosing to play at Acadia shortly after my first visit to Wolfville.
Surprisingly, my visit to Acadia was one of the least exciting... I was in Wolfville during the winter reading week; so the campus was quiet and the weather was cold. The team was rebuilding under a new coach and having a tough season; the game that I watched ended up being a blow-out loss to our rivals StFX.
Finally, with the campus so quiet, my trip ended with a quiet night, some take-out food from Joe's and video games with some of the players in residence.
Despite all of that, I left Wolfville knowing that Acadia was where I needed to be. The small-town feel and closeness of everybody within the university was something that I never experienced anywhere else. The campus was beautiful (even under piles of snow) and the people were extremely friendly. The faculty and staff that I met did a good job selling me on the academic side of the school and I was optimistic about the direction of the basketball team. Little did I know… this choice would be the starting point to a professional career in basketball.
In my time at Acadia, we appeared in three CIS Final 8 tournaments and 3 AUS championships, winning the title in my third year. I was selected as AUS MVP and Defensive player of the year in my final year and named as a first-team All-Canadian. As mentioned, I was chosen to represent Canada in multiple exhibition tournaments, the Pan-American games and two World University games (winning the silver medal in one).
The last four years, I’ve started to realize my dream of playing professionally in Europe, began in my early years at Acadia. Being paid to do something you love is the ultimate reward for the effort and sacrifices that had to be made to get to this point. Acadia was a huge part of my development, and the support from everyone at the university really made it easy to be successful, both academically and athletically.“
The years playing with the axemen and describing those memories.
“The people I met playing basketball there are some of my closest friends to date, and I still keep in touch with many of them. I was only 17 when I started at Acadia, so moving out on my own was a huge adjustment. Luckily, we had a lot of young players who were in the same situation; this made us a close team right away.
We had an early exit in the AUS quarterfinals that first year, but when we upset Cape Breton in overtime to qualify for nationals and the AUS championship in my second year, it became apparent how special that team really was. The following year we added some important transfer players who made a huge impact as well. That year, not only did we make it back to nationals but ended up winning the AUS championship.
After returning to nationals again the following year and being a common name in the top 10 for those final 3 seasons, I really felt like we had successfully represented the school and put Acadia back in the conversation as a basketball school in the country.”
Your connection and ties with the program now.
“Many of the people involved with the program when I was there have moved on, but I still have some connections with the team. Kevin Duffie, who was the assistant coach when I played has now moved up as the head coach. A few players remain, Rhys Larry and Thomas Johnston specifically, and a few players who were being recruited in my last couple years are now finishing their careers. Unfortunately, catching a game live these days is proving fairly difficult. With the time difference between Nova Scotia and Germany, the games usually end up in the middle of the night, and I'm only able to check result the following days.
However, I was lucky enough to see this year's team play a game at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax against StFX in November as I flew back to join the national team in the FIBA world cup qualifiers. I was impressed with the quality of the players and I'm optimistic that they’ll finish the season strong.
Knowing that we will host nationals this year is extremely exciting, and I know that I will be tuning into the live streams to cheer the team on...even if that means losing a couple hours of sleep.
The culture that you experienced at Acadia and basketball history.
“There's a pride that comes with being an Acadia alumnus and being a former athlete really multiplies that pride for me. Being a basketball player for Acadia puts you into a group with some of the most dedicated and successful athletes to participate in the CIS and U SPORTS. I've seen first-hand the turnouts and support that we get at not only traditional alumni events but the basketball ‘meet-ups’ that often coincide with the AUS or CIS final tournaments.
With the team hosting nationals in Halifax in the coming weeks, I know that the 'Acadia pride' will be on full display. To me, the ultimate example of Acadia pride has to be seeing coach Steve Konchalski, who has coached our bitter rivals St.FX for over 40 years, in full Acadia gear when Acadia is playing a big game at nationals (Konchalski played here in the 60’s).
That's how special it is to be a part of not only the Acadia basketball family but the Acadia family in general. Acadia has been successful in basketball, and because of that pride, will continue to be successful in the future.
Best Acadia basketball memory
“This is going to sound strange, but my best memories of Acadia basketball are not the big wins or the important games. My greatest memories are the smaller things, like joking around on the bus with the guys after a road game, or waking up before the sun and walking together through the yet to be plowed streets, only to be met at the gym with a tough practice or extra sprints. Like I've said before, one of the greatest things about Acadia is the people.
You really have to put that jersey on to realize how special it actually is. When you play for Acadia, you are part of a family, and as time passes, and I have trouble remembering specific basketball games or accomplishments, I know that I will have no trouble remembering what it feels like to be a part of the Acadia basketball family.
Today's team and their road to nationals.
“From the little live-action I have seen, we seem to have a really solid team this year and a good chance to do well. Add in the hometown fans and the excitement of hosting the Final 8, it would seem that we have the perfect recipe for success.
I wish all the best for the guys as they finish the season and have a little advice for them going into these tough final games. Try to take some time to enjoy where you are. You've earned the right to focus solely on basketball for this Final 8 tournament and know that no matter what the result, you have the support of the entire Acadia family, past and present, behind you. Proud. Confident. Together.