Eli Pasquale, one of the greatest players in Canadian basketball history, died Monday of cancer in Victoria. He was 59.
“Eli was the face of UVic basketball in his five years with the team and beyond,” said his former coach, Ken Shields.
Pasquale led the University of Victoria Vikes to five consecutive national championships from 1980 to 1984. The native of Sudbury, Ont., played in two Olympic Games and paced Canada to fourth place at Los Angeles in 1984 and sixth place at Seoul in 1988.
Pasquale’s brilliant play from the point-guard position influenced a young Steve Nash, the hall of famer and two-time NBA most valuable player, who grew up watching Pasquale play for UVic at McKinnon Gymnasium.
“There was no greater point-guard in Canadian history, other than Steve [Nash],” Shields said. “Eli was the starting point guard for Canada for 10 years and then Steve became the starting point guard for the next 10 years.”
NBA teams didn’t take Canadian players seriously in the 1980s or Pasquale might have preceded Nash to the NBA.
“Had Eli played in today’s era, he would have played in the NBA, without question,” said Shields.
Pasquale was known for his resolve and for being a fierce competitor. He came second in his first fitness drill as a UVic rookie and then made sure never to lose another drill in practice over five years.
“It came together at the right time and right place,” said Pasquale, upon his induction into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. “It was a combination of Ken Shields and the nucleus of players who gathered at UVic. I had a combination that enabled me to develop. Ken was great on the technical aspects and [late Canadian Olympic team coach Jack Donohue] was the motivator.”
Pasquale was the type of player who teammates naturally followed out of instinct.
“He was a true team leader who was greatly respected by his teammates, coaching staff and by opposing competitors,” said Shields.
Pasquale put down lasting roots in his adopted community. His namesake basketball camps, through which thousands of young Islanders first learned the game, are now operating under his son Manny. Pasquale, who played pro in South America and Europe, was also part of the management group at Graham Kia Victoria in his post-playing career.
Plans for a memorial or service have not been finalized.
Pasquale is survived by wife Karen, sons Isiah and Manny, brother Vito, sister Luciana and mother Adriana.