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After sparkling university career, Owen Klassen sets sights on pro ball

April 12, 2014


When he arrived in Wolfville, N.S., almost five years ago, Owen Klassen wasn’t feeling very good about himself.

He feels better now.

As he prepared to begin kinesiology studies at Acadia University, the basketball-playing Bayridge Secondary School grad couldn’t escape the thought that he’d somehow failed by not latching onto a scholarship to play the game in a prestigious U.S. college program.

“Playing Division 1 is almost a dream that’s forced upon young basketball players in Canada,” Klassen said Wednesday, after finishing the last exam of his university career. “You feel like you’re not successful if you don’t go that route.

“At first I thought it was a crappy situation, like I haven’t been as successful as I wanted to be, but as soon as I got here I realized that the CIS is getting better every year. It’s pretty obvious, based on some of the teams that are playing against NCAA competition and doing well, that the CIS, and Canadian basketball in general, is starting to catch up to the rest of the world.”

Acadia, it turned out, turned out to be everything Klassen needed it to be.

“I got experiences with the national team out of it, and I’ve got my name out there probably as well, if not better, than I would have if I’d gone to a Division 1 team so I’m very happy, basketball-wise.

“As far as academics, it’s one of the better schools in Canada so I feel like my degree actually means something.”

Klassen ended his final intercollegiate season seventh in the nation with 20 points per game, and he led the Atlantic conferenced with 10.6 rebounds per game. Those numbers earned him first-team all-Canadian status for the second year in a row.

He played internationally three times, at the Pan Am Games in Mexico in 2011 and at World Student Games in China in 2011 and in Russia last summer.

As he prepared for the most recent FISU games, Klassen again encountered lingering traces of NCAA envy, as the players asked about each other’s colleges. After his teammates spoke of playing for traditional powers like Stanford, Baylor and Gonzaga, it was then Klassen’s turn.

“I said, ‘Acadia’ and they said, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ It kind of made me feel like crap at first but it all goes away if you’re talented enough. It doesn’t matter where you play — if you’re on the same level, you’re on the same level.”

And it’s clear that on a very talented team, Klassen belonged. At FISU he averaged more minutes per game than anyone. “I thought that was interesting,” he said. “I was playing when stuff mattered at the end of games.”

At the Four Nations tournament in China ahead of the Student Games, the Canadian team was undefeated in nine matches. Klassen had three double-digit scoring performances and one game of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The team had still to taste defeat through the preliminary round at FISU, but then was beaten by eventual gold medalist Russia in the semifinals.

Klassen said he hasn’t yet had time to reflect on his Acadia experience.

“When season ends you automatically start looking back at everything you’ve done and part of the coping mechanism I used at the end of the season — when we lost (in the playoffs) when we probably shouldn’t have — was to look back and realize how much not only me, but the group I came in with, have accomplished.

“We went to nationals three years in a row … we won an AUS championship. We had a lot of success, more than a lot of the great players who have played in the U.S. It makes you feel a little bit better, but in the moment it’s so difficult to reflect on your experiences. I feel like in the next couple of months I’ll start realizing what sort of career I had here.”

Doubtless one event that will stand among the highlights came in the spring of 2011, when Acadia, 7-13 in the regular season, upset top-seeded Cape Breton, which finished 19-1, in the conference semifinals to earn the first of those three trips to the national championship.

“That sticks in my mind,” Klassen said. “That started our success.”

In 2013 Acadia defeated British Columbia and found itself facing umpteen-time national champion Carleton in a semifinal.

“I actually love playing against Carleton,” Klassen said, not only for the challenge of facing the nation’s best, but for the connections between the two programs. Not the least of those is Klassen’s membership on a couple of national teams where Ravens coach Dave Smart was an assistant.

There’s also the fact that Klassen was heavily recruited by Carleton coming out of high school. “They didn’t have the program I wanted,” he said.

Next for Klassen is a spring of training and seeking an opportunity to continue playing basketball next year. He’ll be working out in Hamilton while he waits to hear if an agent finds a professional team in Europe with a place for him to play.

Though he’s played internationally, Klassen said that doesn’t necessarily provide any insight to where he might fit in the European club structure.

“It’s hard to gauge how good the players actually are,” he said. “For someone who’s 6-10 I move relatively well. I jump pretty high and I move pretty fast for my size. That’s something that I can use to my advantage at the next level. For me, rebounding is effort and athleticism, more than skill, and one thing that was obvious was that I can rebound (in international competition) as well as I can now.

“It will be interesting to see how my skills transfer to the next level.”


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