I was born in Halifax, in 1979, just weeks before the Saint Mary’s Huskies defeated the Victoria Vikings in the National Championship Game in Calgary. Mickey Fox scored 37 points in the last game of his university career and was named Tournament MVP. Although his college career ended when I was a baby, growing up in Halifax, I often heard stories of how great he was to watch. We never had an NBA team to cheer for, so our college stars were our role models. We looked up to them and wanted to be just like them. I still remember being with a group of friends outside of our elementary school and seeing William Njoku, who was a 6’9” high school star at the time. He was hanging around the basketball court with a few of his friends. William was wearing a “Milk” T-shirt. We went home and drank a few glasses of milk hoping that it would make us grow to be as tall as William.
As a kid, my father never took me to a regular season AUAA (now called AUS) game, but we went to the AUAA and CIAU (now called U SPORTS) Championships at the Metro Centre (now the Scotiabank Centre) almost every year. My father always tried to find seats in the corner, about ten rows up from the floor. He always said that those were the best seats in the house, and they were rarely filled. The CIAU Championships of the 1980s were so long ago now that my memories have begun to fade, but I do remember always cheering for whichever AUAA team was playing that particular year, and I remember being heartbroken watching Victoria and Brandon University win championships on the Metro Centre floor. It was also during the 1980s that my love for playing basketball was born. I remember my father teaching me how to dribble on the concrete court outside of Titus Smith Elementary School in Fairview. He told me that when you bounce the ball, it will come straight back to your hand. It seems obvious, but it was all new to me.
As the 1980s turned into the 90s, I began going to the CIAU Championships with my friends. I remember bringing a homemade sign to an STFX game at 1990 national tournament that read: “Wade’s World!” The sign was made to show my support for Halifax hoops legend, Wade Smith, who was a great long range shooter. It was players like Wade Smith who added to the passion I had for the game of basketball. The early 1990s were a special decade for me as far as basketball goes. I was in the seventh grade during the 1991-1992 basketball season. I was thrilled to be selected to my junior high team that year, and I also played bantam basketball for the Fairview-Clayton Park Warriors. The Chicago Bulls won the NBA Championship that season, and the Saint Mary’s Huskies had a great run at the CIAU Championships, eventually falling to Brock University in the National Final. I was a big Saint Mary’s Huskies fan. That year, the Huskies were led by forwards, Brian Thompson and William Njoku; both of whom had attended Halifax West High School in the late 1980s. I still remember rushing back to my seat with a hotdog and hearing “William Njoku” from the stadium loudspeakers. I remember dreaming that someday my name would be announced after scoring a basket in the Metro Centre.
The funny thing about growing up in Halifax is that every year you cheer for whatever AUS team is playing in the Final 8 Tournament. It is like us against the rest of the country. We were proud of our East Coast teams. The following year, after my beloved Huskies didn’t qualify for a spot in the national tournament, I became a huge St. FX fan for that one weekend in March! I remember being a big fan of big men Richard Bella, Guy Mbongo, and guards, Brian Lee and Merrick Palmer. The X-Men all wore the Reebok Pumps that Dee Brown had made famous the year before. I remember wanting those sneakers so badly. The X-Men defeated McMaster 72-64 in the National Final. I remember that the atmosphere in the Metro Centre was absolutely electric throughout Xavier’s run. The next day I cut out the picture from the Daily News, and I had it on my bedroom wall for years.
Seven years later, I was back cheering for the Huskies at the Final 8 Championships. Local point guard, Jonah Taussig, who played his high school hoops at Queen Elizabeth, led the Huskies to a National Championship in front of an ecstatic crowd. By that time I was no longer playing basketball due to a torn ACL, but it was great to see Jonah and Nelson Carvery, two guys who I had played against growing up, succeed at that level. The next two national tournaments were probably the most memorable for me. The St. Francis Xavier X-Men were led by my former high school teammate, Fred Perry, and other local stars Dennie Oliver and Jordan Croucher. Fred, Dennie, and Jordan, along with point guard Randy Nohr from British Columbia, led the X-Men to back to back national championships in 2000 and 2001! I was proud of Fred, who I had looked up to since my tenth-grade season at Halifax West. Fred was our star player and led us to an NSSAF Provincial Championship in 1995.
In 2000, I started my annual bantam elite basketball camp in Halifax. I invited the top 13-year-old players from around the province. I remember thinking to myself that it would be very cool to one day see some of these campers go on to play at the Metro Centre. To me, that is the most exciting thing about coaching young players. I love following their careers as they go on to bigger and better things. I have been blessed to have seen many players I’ve coached go on to become successful university student-athletes. I remember Pat McIver, who attended my first camp in 2000, became the first of my former campers to go on to play in the Final 8 tournament. He played for Acadia, and I remember watching him play on television against the powerhouse Carleton Ravens. It was a very cool moment. Since then, there have been many local kids who I have had the pleasure of working with go on to play in the Final 8. Words can’t describe how great it feels to see guys, who you’ve known since they played mini basketball, now playing in front of thousands of cheering fans at Scotiabank Centre. The Final 8 is an important part of the basketball community in Halifax, and I am excited that I will be able to take my two sons to the tournament this year and share the memories that my father and I have made in March.
Halifax, Nova Scotia