By John DeCoste
Owen Klassen says he is “hardly ever not busy,” but the past nine months or so has been almost more hectic than even he is used to.
Klassen, a third-year forward with the Acadia men’s basketball team, and his teammates started off the year with a surprise trip to the nationals in Halifax.
The 6’10” Kingston, ON native then spent the summer representing Canada at a pair of international competitions – the World Universiade in China (where Canada won a silver medal), and the Pan-Am Games in Mexico.
Here at home, the Axemen qualified for the Final Eight with an overtime win over Cape Breton in the conference semifinals. Acadia lost both its games at nationals, but gained experience Klassen said, “you can’t get anywhere else.
“Going to nationals, and getting to experience that atmosphere, was great,” he said. “In the long run, it will help us a lot.”
As for the national team experience, Klassen described Team Canada as “a developmental kind of team. We were all CIS players; that was Canada Basketball’s decision,” as a way to develop young players for future international competitions.
The team, originally put together for the World Universiade and kept together to compete at the Pan-Am Games, was “selected by a group of coaches based on last season’s performance.”
Axemen head coach Steve Baur alerted Klassen to the opportunity.
“I got to be part of a core group, and one day, I got an email inviting me to play for the team.
“I originally thought there would be tryouts, but I didn’t get together with the rest of the team until a training camp in Vancouver two weeks before we left for China.”
Klassen had some idea of what to expect basketball-wise, but culturally was another thing altogether. “I had been out of the country before, but not outside North America.”
He described China as “a real culture shock for me. Everything is so different there, and the amount of people is insane. There were two million volunteers for the event alone. The entire athlete village was built for the event, and afterwards turned into a university.”
Klassen had taken part in national competitions, but admitted, “it’s a totally different feeling competing for your country…
“I now have a whole different kind of respect when I hear the national anthem played,” he said.
In China, Klassen and his teammates played against other teams of university students. At the Pan-Am Games, “there was no age limit, and there were professional players,” so the overall calibre of play was much higher.
“It was seen as a developmental opportunity for us – throw us into the mix and see what happened,” he said, admitting, “I took more out of the trip to Mexico than China.
“I now have a whole different kind of respect when I hear the national anthem played.” - Owen Klassen, Acadia Axemen basketball player
“We were second in China, but the level of competition at the Pan-Am Games was like nothing I’d ever seen before.”
There were even some NBA players taking part in the event.
“It made me realize, there’s not as much distance between me and players like that as I thought there was. You see these guys play on TV. It’s crazy to actually get to play against them.”
Klassen has seen a difference in his play since he returned to Acadia.
“There’s no substitute for this kind of experience,” he said. “It’s like the difference between practicing and playing in games. I’ve noticed myself getting better for learning and for getting to play games and practice at that level.”
He added playing for a national team “doesn’t make me some kind of a celebrity – though it does make me a better basketball player.”
One thing that bothered Klassen a bit was the timing. The Universiade was during the summer, but for the trip to Mexico, “I ended up missing two pre-season tournaments, which was frustrating. The guys didn’t end up doing as well as if I had been there, but in the end, it’s likely to help all of us.”
In the third year of a Kinesiology degree, Klassen originally had thoughts of becoming a chiropractor. Now, he is “taking a range of courses, and keeping my options open.”
And while it is “hard to think about that now, with two-and-a-half more years before I’m done here,” he admitted, “I’d jump at the chance to play for the national team.”
Asked if he might want to play professionally at some point, Klassen admitted, “anyone who plays basketball doesn’t ever want it to end. If I could keep playing at that high a level, I’d love that.”
His immediate plan is to play five years at Acadia.
“It’s not just basketball; I’m spacing my courses out, because it’s hard to excel at both. I’m on a scholarship, and that covers my tuition.” When his eligibility is up, he’ll be able to graduate as well, and see where life takes him from there.
Who: Third-year Acadia basketball player
Hometown: Kingston, ON
Weight: 225 pounds
2011-12 university stats:
Games played: 5