-Men basketball coach Steve Konchalski recently returned from Cairo, Egypt where he was a part of the historic World Cup championship victory with the Canadian U19 team. The 42-year veteran StFX coach was a mentor coach for the national squad. We sat down with Coach K to chat about his most recent coaching success.
Explain your role with the Canadian U19 team?
I was a mentor coach. This is my seventh year working with Coach Roy Rana from Ryerson University as a mentor coach with the junior program. Basically, I am a sounding board for the coaching staff - I go to all the practices, I go to all the meetings and video sessions, and I am a member of the coaching staff. I'm just not an assistant coach so I don't sit on the bench, but I provide feedback to the coaches and to a certain degree the players, but mainly the coaches.
What does this victory mean for Basketball Canada?
This is the first time that Canada has ever won a world championship on the international stage. Back when I was an assistant to Jack Donohue we won a gold medal in 1983 at the World University Games in Edmonton, which was terrific to do on home soil, but it wasn't a FIBA world championship event. So hopefully this is going to be a breakthrough performance. As basketball explodes in this country - which it is doing right now - hopefully this will be the first of many medals at world championship events.
You have been involved with the Canadian basketball scene at the national level for a number of years, you have coached at the Olympics, and you have won three national university titles. How does this World Cup victory rank within your other coaching successes?
I have a bit of time to reflect on it, and it certainly is up there with our national championships and with the gold medal in Edmonton I already mentioned, but from a different perspective though. I think the satisfaction that I got out of this was the fact that I've been working with Roy Rana as his mentor coach for seven years, and to see him develop in his coaching style and for me to be part of that is very rewarding, and to him get the recognition that he deserves as one of the top coaches in the country.
With recent unrest and conflict in Egypt, the Canadian team had to follow some strict guidelines and security measures while in the country, especially when it came to travelling. Can you share some of those unique experiences?
When we went over there was quite a bit of concern from parents of our players regarding the security issues and they were legitimate concerns, but having said that, we never really encountered any problems. We did have security at our hotel, there were metal detectors every time you came in and out of the hotel. We had armed guards on our buses and we had police escorts pretty much everywhere we went, but we didn't have problems.
The US obviously might have been more of a target, and their security was probably 5-10 times the security that we had. Along the highways to the gymnasium there was security, when the US was playing there was armed military every 100-200 feet along the roadways within a few kilometers of the stadium. I think the concern was more with the US but nonetheless we didn't encounter any problems.
What are some of your personal memories from Cairo, both on and off the court?
One of the things I wanted to do was see the pyramids, since it's one of the Wonders of the World, and I was hoping security measures wouldn't prevent that and it didn't. We took the whole team there and it was a pretty amazing experience.
The other thing that was pretty amazing was when we won the gold medal, the celebrations afterwards - the light show, fireworks going off, and the silver confetti coming down out of the skies - was really something you only see at an NBA championship or an NCAA championship. The festivities carried on for about an hour on the court and it was really wonderful to see these young players 17, 18 and 19 years old having an opportunity to experience that, it was really unique.
What does the future of basketball in Nova Scotia and Canada hold in the coming year?
The fact that we had two Nova Scotians on this team – Nate Darling from Halifax who plays at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and Lindell Wigginton from Dartmouth who will be playing at Iowa State this year, made it pretty special. To have three Nova Scotians as part of the team, it is an indication of how the game is exploding across the country, and a win like this can do nothing but positive things in terms of motivation of young kids to play the game, and for Canada Basketball to get the recognition from players, fans, coaches and media across the country so that we continue to grow our game.