Before there was Steve Nash, there was Eli Pasquale.
The legendary former University of Victoria Vikes basketball point guard and two-time Olympian, who died in 2019 at age 59, was inducted posthumously with the Class of 2020-21 into the Canada West Conference Sports Hall of Fame.
Nash, who spoke movingly at Pasquale’s memorial service at McKinnon Gym, said it was as a young fan in that facility that Pasquale inspired the eventual two-time NBA MVP to pursue a path to backcourt greatness.
Pasquale achieved the rare feat of winning the national championship at UVic in each of his five seasons of varsity eligibility.
“No player in Canada West had a greater impact on his team than Eli,” said Ken Shields, who coached Pasquale at UVic.
“His influence as a leader and fierce competitor, especially too on defence, was unmatched. He dominated in Canada in his position. Nobody could contain him.”
Pasquale later led Canada at 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, losing in the semifinals to the Michael Jordan-led U.S. team, and to sixth place in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Selected in the draft, Pasquale was the last cut of the Seattle SuperSonics in an era when even the notion of a Canadian in the NBA was laughed at. Now that it’s common is because Pasquale helped blaze the trail.
“Veteran Sonics players were stunned when Eli was released and said it just wasn’t right,” recalled Shields, who said Pasquale would have been in the NBA in this era.
“Now, Canadians going into the NBA are respected.”
The Canada West Hall of Fame was established in 2019. What is surprising to some is that Pasquale was not included in the 100-member inaugural 2019-20 Class but had to wait until the 23-member second Class announced this week.
Pasquale joins Shields in the Canada West hall. The UVic seven-time national championship basketball dynasty of the 1980s has also been inducted in the team category.
Other UVic members of the Canada West hall are iconic women’s basketball coach Kathy Shields, field-hockey Olympians Nancy Mollenhauer and Rochelle Low, Olympic swimming medallist Pam Rai, Canadian women’s soccer team World Cup goalkeeper Nicci Wright, runner Silverado Socrates (formerly Brenda Shackleton) and soccer player Cole McFarlane.
Also in the Canada West hall are former Oak Bay Secondary sportsmen Josh Howatson, a Canadian national team volleyball standout who played at Trinity Western, and Don Horwood, who guided the University of Alberta Golden Bears to three national men’s basketball titles.
The UVic women’s basketball squad of 1980 to 1983, which won three national championships in that span, is inducted in the team category.