HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Kanata’s Jason Kerswill was a highly recruited 6-8, basketball centre in the late 1990s. But when the moment of truth stared him in the face, his choice for university was rather straightforward.
Attending St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, to study human kinetics and play for the men’s basketball X-Men under renowned head coach Steve Konchalski was the obvious academic and athletic choice.
“I felt SFX was the best place, especially having the national team coach there. I’d be coached and mentored by the best in the country,” said Kerswill, who has been one of many to pay tribute to Canada’s Coach K on his retirement.
Konchalski, a driving force also as a player in the Atlantic conference in the 1960s, will retire March 31, after 46 years as head coach of the X-Men’s men’s basketball program and the national university coach with the most career wins. He also coached the Canadian men’s team from 1995-98 and has been a member of Canada Basketball’s Counsel of Excellence since 2009.
“A few years before I went to SFX, the head coach of the national team held a Big Man ID evening in Ottawa. Tom Kennedy (also a future X-Men player), myself and a few others attended,” Kerswill added.
“It was an opportunity for Steve to put us through our paces. He stayed in contact, watched my high school games (at Earl of March Secondary School) and followed my provincial team.
“Then he presented this great opportunity, academically to study human kinetics and if I stayed in Canada, SFX basketball would be as close to (NCAA) Division 1 basketball as I could expect.”
Kerswill also was familiar with Konchalski as the national team assistant coach to Jack Donohue, who lived in Kanata. Donohue and Konchalski often held national-team training camps in the 1980s and 1990s at Carleton University, University of Ottawa or Algonquin College.
“Steve definitely was the most knowledgeable basketball mind in the country,” said Kerswill, who helped Konchalski win national titles in 2000 and 2001. “He was similar to (Carleton University’s) Dave Smart; practices were harder than the games.
“He definitely had a passion for hard work and he played a role in developing young men. But he couldn’t do it without the support of his wife Charlene. She was a wonderful help to the players. They did it as a team.”
Despite seeing his final season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, except for a recent farewell game against Acadia University, Konchalski is leaving on a high. The university is posting social media tributes to him every day this month.
Born in Elmhurst, New York, Konchalski sparked the Acadia Axemen to four straight Atlantic conference titles from 1962 to 1965. In his final season, the Axemen won the Canadian championship and Konchalski was the tournament MVP.
When St. Francis defeated Acadia 99-76 in an exhibition game March 6 (it will become the Coach K Challenge in the future), Konchalski’s final stats were unveiled: 1,495 games, 919 wins, and three national championships (1993, 2000, 2001).
One of U Sports’ longest serving head coaches across all sports, Konchalski also garnered nine Atlantic University Sport titles, six conference coach-of-the-year awards, and the 2001 national coach-of-the-year honour.
In 46 years of walking the sidelines from 1975-2021, Konchalski took his X-Men teams to 42 Atlantic playoff appearances and 18 U Sports, CIS or CIAU national championship tournaments.
When it comes to Top Ten wins by a U Sports men’s basketball head coach, Konchalski was No. 1 across the board: regular season, 558; all games against Canadian teams, 831 (Smart is No. 2 at 591); and overall, 919.
His final overall win-loss record was 919-576 for a .615 winning percentage. He also took the X-Men to the CIS national final in 2004, but lost 63-59 to Carleton University, the Ravens’ second title in their dynasty run.