Eli Pasquale, who represented Canadian basketball in the 1980s, passed away at the age of 59.
Canada Basketball said he died of cancer on Nov. 4, 2019.
“It’s a sad day for basketball in our country.” Said Jay Triano, former Canada national team coach.
However, Pasquale’s star status reached Wood Buffalo long before the Toronto Raptors took shape in our country.
Born in Sudbury, Ont., Pasquale played college hoops for the University of Victoria.
He guided the Vikings to five consecutive national titles from 1980-84 and won the World University Games in Edmonton in 1983.
That year, he met Keyano College’s Sports Information Officer Curtis Phillips, who at that time was head of media at the Games.
“That’s where his name came to the forefront as he led Canada to a gold medal over Yugoslavia. He was just an amazing player.”
Phillips said Pasquale, who played point guard, directed Canada to an upset win over the United States, which featured future NBA greats Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.
He added the American broadcasters were so confident of victory they didn’t record the game.
“[The announcers] were watching the semifinals when they realized, ‘we’re going to lose to Canada!’ So, they sent one of the guys back to the hotel to get their [TV network] blazers, they wore those, and they shot from the head up because they were wearing shorts.”
Pasquale and legendary Canadian head coach, Jack Donahue visited Fort McMurray after the Games.
Phillips said they spent days pouring over his collection of basketball memorabilia and swapping stories.
“The first time [Pasquale] came, he stayed at my house for a couple of days. Then he came a second time because I’ve been collecting basketball memorabilia and literature [from the last] 50 years, Eli just wanted to stay in the basement and read all the basketball books.”
Moreover, he noted the impact Pasquale had on local kids.
“He inspired a lot of kids here in Fort McMurray. They could see that a young man, not tall or super built, 6’1″ and 160-175 pounds, they could envision themselves one day perhaps playing NBA or semi-pro basketball.”
Phillips added Pasquale also encouraged kids to get an education through sport pointing them to institutions like Keyano College.
Pasquale played for Canada in four world championships and two Pan American Games.
Pasquale went on to lead Canada to a fourth-place finish at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and sixth place in 1988 in Seoul.
Phillips recalled a story where he and Pasquale played cardboard cutouts of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in a pickup game.
They featured in the halftime show from the NBA All-Star Game in Seattle showing Pasquale dunking over the famous duo.
Despite his talent, Pasquale couldn’t crack an NBA roster.
The Seattle Supersonics drafted him in 1984 but released him shortly before the season.
Next, he earned a tryout with the Chicago Bulls playing alongside the great Michael Jordan but failed to make the team.
However, Pasquale continued his pro career playing in Argentina, West Germany, and Switzerland.
After retiring from the game, Eli Pasquale stayed in basketball coaching and mentoring in Victoria, B.C.
Among his young prodigies was future Canadian and NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard, Steve Nash.
He earned an induction into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Pasquale leaves his wife Karen, sons Isiah and Manny, brother Vito, sister Luciana and mother Adriana.