The star of the 1980s University of Victoria (UVic) Vikes basketball team Eli Pasquale died on Monday at 59 years old following a battle with cancer.
Born in Sudbury, Ont., Pasquale rose to fame in Canadian basketball. He was the point guard for the Vikes team from the 1979-80 season until 1983-84 and won five straight national championships. He was named the B.C. University Athlete of the Year in 1982.
This is an awesome picture right here. Eli Pasquale making life difficult for Drazen Petrovic. Both represented their Countries, Canada and the former Yugoslavia, with great pride. May they both Rest in Peace. :pray::skin-tone-4: pic.twitter.com/ORqlZBMy5F
— Dwight Walton :flag-ca: (@Bballinsider) November 5, 2019
Pasquale later played for Team Canada at two Olympics – Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988 – coached by the late Jack Donohue. He would have represented Canada a third time in Barcelona if not for an injury.
Pasquale was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, the B.C. Hall of Fame in 2004, the UVic Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. UVic also retired his jersey number, 13, in 2005.
He was as focused on his commitment to developing youth basketball in the community as he was in preparing for his own games, said his former Vikes coach, Ken Shields, who led the team in all five national championships.
Shields kept in close touch with the family while Pasquale was ill and visited him on Saturday.
“He was ill for some time, in the end it went very quickly, the cancer was particularly aggressive, and he deteriorated rapidly,” Shields said.
Pasquale had arguably the greatest impact on basketball in Victoria of anyone from the past 30 years. During his amateur playing career he started the Pasquale basketball youth camps and leagues that continued, with his son Manny’s leadership, even while Pasquale was sick.
Both of Pasquale’s sons, Isaiah and Manny, attended Laurentian University in their father’s hometown.
Pasquale’s impact included being part of the intense 1980s basketball culture at UVic that set the tone for a young Steve Nash, who looked up to Pasquale and would practice with the team.
“Steve always credits Eli for being the best point guard in Canada and having an impact on him,” Shields said.
In 1983, Pasquale was part of the Canadian university team that won a gold medal at the World University Games, defeating a U.S. team with future NBA stars Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. That year Pasquale was named Canada’s top university basketball player and earned the award again in 1984, as he was also drafted by the Seattle Supersonics.
When he showed up to the Vikes in 1979, his focus and commitment was to the team, Shields remembers.
“He brought a passion for the sport with him, he loved to practice, and he loved to compete,” Shields said. “He was totally dedicated to being the best he can be, we worked together very closely. He was a leader, our leader, during his five years at UVic, on the court.”
Off the court he was quiet, but always preparing, fiercely competitive, an outstanding leader and his passion to excel was unmatched, Shields noted.
“You can’t measure his impact on the Vikes program, he was the face of the program while he was here. Even though we had other great players, his impact at UVic and university basketball was second to none.”
Shields will always remember, the first time Pasquale completed the Vikes conditioning exercise in his first practice, he finished second place.
“He never finished anything but first for the rest of the five years. He lead every single conditioning exercise,” Shields said.
During their heyday, the Vikes would travel to the U.S. and played won seven of 14 games against Div. 1 NCAA teams.
Pasquale is survived by his wife, Karen, his sons, his siblings Vito and Luciana and his mother Adriana.