Eli Pasquale
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Captain Canada The Original


by Curtis J. Phillips

It’s Friday afternoon February 6, 1985 and the coastal city of Seattle, Washington is starting to come alive with NBA All-Star fever.

Two youthful Canadians – one a media type and the other a basketball player of some notoriety - are heading downtown when they are stopped on the street by a television sports announcer accompanied by his cameraman.

The TV crew have a few props with them.

A miniature red, white and blue basketball and behind them a life-size cardboard cutout of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson promoting a popular brand of basketball shoes.

The announcer asks the young Canadians if either would like to go one-on-one with Bird and Magic?

Sure. Why not?

Better yet, the two Canucks decide to go two-on-two.

The whole spectacle would later be aired on television in slow motion format to the Harlem Globetrotters theme song "Sweet Georgia Brown".

The play starts discretely with the media type spinning the ball on his finger.

He then gives a quick head fake and bounces the ball off of his head into the air to his friend the ballplayer.

The ballplayer, having perfected his trade, starts on his move.

Two between the leg dribbles in front of Bird and Magic are followed by a quick stutter step.

He then performs a 360 degree spin around the famous Lakers guard and Celtics forward.

Bird and Magic were stiff on defense. They were like paper in his hands now.

Realizing that he had everything in control, he went for the gusto.

Coming off of the spin move, he switched the ball over to his left hand and cradled it as he went sky high.

The ball player was ready to perform the face job of the century.

Wham…the ball came straight down over top Bird and Magic.

They were stunned. They couldn’t move.

How did the kid feel?

The freeze frame on the boob tube caught the moment.

He was smiling.

It wasn’t the first time that Eli Pasquale had gone head-to head against greatest ball players in the world.

Having perfected his game on the playgrounds of Sudbury, Ontario, the 6-foot-1 Pasquale was lightning quick.

Combine that with a tenacious defense and competitive spirit, he had gained acclaim while leading the University of Victoria Vikings to supremacy during the early 1980s.

Supremacy? How about five consecutive CIS titles!

He would gain MVP status on the national scene with first team all-star status awarded three times.

In later years Victoria would retire his No. 13 jersey.

But it was with the Canadian national senior men’s team that the legend would grow.

He would dawn our country’s colours for 15 years. Fifteen years!

The 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Three world championships. Two Pan Am Games.

The highlight of his amateur career was, without a doubt, the summer of 1983 in Edmonton, Alberta, site of the World University Games (Universiade).

It was at these games that Canada captured the gold medal by defeating a Yugoslavia team featuring a future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member, the late great Drazen Petrovic.

To advance to the finals Canada had upset the much favoured USA club which featured none other than Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.

Yes you read it right. Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.

Pasquale’s outstanding play did not go unnoticed with the Seattle Super Sonics selecting him 106th in the fifth round of the 1984 NBA Draft.

He would appear in three exhibition games before getting the axe when the Super Sonics acquired the services of guard Gerald Henderson from the Boston Celtics.

"I made it through the rookie camp and then I made it to the final 15," recalled Pasqaule. "I was the last cut along with (future NBA Hall of Fame member) David Thompson."

Ironically, Thompson, a 6-foot-4 jumping jack with a 44-inch vertical, was Pasquales’s hero when he was dreaming up moves on the playgrounds.

Thompson, a four-time NBA All Star who also has the distinction of being MVP in both the NBA and ABA All Star contests, only lasted nine years in the pros due to drug problems.

But the NBA dream was not over for Pasquale.

Following some AAU basketball, where he led his Seattle team to a 1985 national title, Pasquale invested his talents and own cash, into playing in the Los Angeles Summer Pro League.

The dream continued with a call from Chicago Bulls G.M. Jerry Krause.

Pasquale, then 26 years of age, now had a chance to rub shoulders and go head-to-head with another

basketball player of some notoriety…Michael Jordan.

"He was playing at a different level than everyone else,." recalled Pasquale of the Air Jordan experience in 1985. "But you couldn’t be awed. I was there to play and to make the team."

Once again Pasquale made it through to the main camp but trades bringing in guards (four-time NBA Scoring champion) George Gervin from San Antonio Spurs and Kyle Macy from Phoenix Suns, ended his dream.

Pasquale would later play professional basketball in Argentina (1986), West Germany (1989) and Switzerland (1990) and even at age 41 be invited to play in Italy.

But it was the love of the game that had him passing on his skills and knowledge to the youth of Canada through Eli Pasquale Sports Group, a successful basketball camp business in operation for more than 20 years.

Pasquale, now 44, is also part of the part of the management team at Acura, a Victoria car dealership in B.C..

His drive to succeed eventually led him to the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame where he was inducted on October 18, 2003.

A year later he was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame.

Of his basketball career, Pasquale says: "As a player It meant a love of basketball and a true and clear sense of purpose. My biggest thrill has been playing for Canada. I made it back to the national team at age 37 after a five year retirement and helped the team qualify for the 1998 World Championships.

"As a coach…a deep satisfaction in motivating and helping players develop and improve."

It is this desire to develop and improve that Pasquale concludes with a visit down memory lane to his own hometown roots.

"I grew up inan Italian immigrant part of (Sudbury) town called Gatchell," says Pasquale. "My backyard literally was the INCO mining property. My parents were hard working people. My mom's only basketball game she ever saw was my last high school game. Things were done on our own.

"My first basketball team I played on was in Grade 8 at St. Francis School. I was 4' 11".

In Grade 10, I was 5' 3" and decided I wanted to play in the Olympics. I spent easily six to eight hours a day in the summer practicing basketball."

Pasquale lived up to the adage that Great Men never think Great and Small Men never think Small.

His own children, Isiah and Manny, carry on the Pasquale tradition with Isiah earning third team all-star status at the recent British Columbia AAA high school provincials.

His other son Manny is in Grade 9.

For more info on Eli Pasquale check out his website www.elipasquale.com.

If you look closely you might see one or two pics, frozen in time, of a young Canuck ball player smiling


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