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UBC's Pasha Bains has lit up scoreboards since returning to play basketball in Canada - photo by Martin Dee
UBC's Pasha Bains has lit up scoreboards since returning to play basketball in Canada - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 3 | Mar. 2, 2006

20 for 20

Choosing to play basketball in Canada, Thunderbirds #20 Pasha Bains has helped UBC post a perfect 20 regular season wins

By Basil Waugh

Scoring more points than anyone else in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) basketball, player of the year candidate Pasha Bains has led the high octane University of British Columbia Thunderbirds to the first Canada West perfect regular season in 22 years, and is a big reason the CIS championships in Halifax on March 16 is circled on the team’s calendar.

While it was once considered a slam dunk that Bains, 25, would spend his university playing days at an American basketball powerhouse, he is just one of many top Canadian athletes who are choosing to return to Canada or bypass the U.S. experience altogether.

Just as Canadian businesses and post-secondary institutions have worked hard to reverse the so-called brain drain and now compete globally for top talent, Canadian athletic programs such as UBC’s are increasingly attracting this country’s top varsity athletes through a renewed commitment to coaching, player development and athletics funding.

Before returning to Canada, Bains played two years at South Carolina’s Clemson University against perennial Final Four favorites such as Duke University and the University of North Carolina. After spending two years at Simon Fraser University, Bains credits Thunderbird (and Canadian national development team) coach Kevin Hanson for his decision to come to UBC.

“When I played for Kevin at the World University Games in Turkey, we just clicked right away,” says the six-foot-three guard. “He gives you so much confidence and really works hard to help you develop as a player. He is a huge role model for me.”

“My two dreams are to play pro and then coach. So when Kevin told me about the coaching program here, that pretty much sealed the deal for me -- coming to UBC meant I could play for Kevin and do the exact program that I was looking for,” says Bains, now in his final year in a joint Masters program in Coaching Science and Sports Psychology in the School of Human Kinetics.

In addition to Bains, other recent transfers to UBC include: from the University of Kentucky, Nanaimo-born world junior high jump champion Mike Mason; in baseball, from the University of Hawaii, Vancouver-born catcher Steve Bell-Irving; and, from the University College of San Diego, Washington State’s Fletcher Vynne; and in basketball, from St. Francis University in Pennsylvania, White Rock’s Chad Clifford; from South East Missouri State, junior national team’s Leanne Evans, and from Illinois State, the tallest woman in university basketball, Calgary’s six-foot-six Katie Ward.

In addition, Vancouver-born Canadian junior javelin champ Liz Gleadle has just announced her decision to attend UBC in September.

“I think people are realizing that if you’re on a losing squad, not getting along with the coaches, or not getting enough playing time, it doesn’t matter how big your scholarship is,” says Theresa Hanson, manager of Intercollegiate Sports for UBC Athletics and Recreation.

“More and more, varsity athletes just want to go to the school where they will have the best possible overall experience and they are finding that here,” she says. “One of our goals is to give top Canadian athletes the opportunity to compete in Canada at the very highest level.”

Theresa Hanson believes that the number of UBC coaches with national or provincial team experience in sports such as women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball is a major draw for athletes. She notes also that UBC is the only university in Canada to hire full-time assistant coaches for sports other than football, which gives players the opportunity for more one-on-one workouts.

Theresa Hanson cites the UBC baseball team as another major destination for home-grown athletes. The team has nine transfers on its roster and alumnus Jeff Francis now pitching for Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies.

“In 1998 we started what is still the only university baseball program in Canada that competes in the U.S.-based National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics. Now all these Canadian athletes who never had the chance to play at a high level in our country are coming back.

“A big reason UBC can compete so well for athletes,” says Theresa Hanson, “is our administration’s financial
commitment to athletics and our fundraising efforts, which allows us to pay for things like extra coaches and offer up to full scholarships.” She cites the upcoming Telus Millennium Scholarship Breakfast on March 6 as the best example of athletic fundraising at UBC. Having raised $3.3 million in six years, the annual event is the single most successful fundraiser ever staged by a university athletics department in Canada.

Theresa Hanson says CIS regulations permit Canadian universities to pay tuition for athletes, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) permits U.S. schools to pay for athletes’ living expenses, in addition to tuition.

“Money is not as much of a reason to go to the states anymore,” says Bains. “Canadian scholarships are more than I think most people realize, especially when you consider the tax you have to pay on U.S. scholarships and the cost of all the flights back and forth.”

Having played university basketball on both sides of the 49th parallel, the 2004 CIS player of the year is able to give some insights into the differences and similarities between Canadian and U.S. sports cultures.

“I’d say athletes down south generally approach scholarships as if they were lottery tickets for the NBA or the NFL -- despite what are often pretty long odds -- and aren’t really as interested in the academic side,” says Bains.

“Varsity athletes in Canada are just as focused on development, but I think we generally are more interested in learning with an eye to life after sports.”

As for similarities, Bains says, “Unless they are a varsity athlete, I don’t think people realize how much work it is.” Bains says by the time he begins his daily studies at 10 a.m. he has already hit the weight room, watched game footage, and had a one-on-one workout with his assistant coach, and physiotherapy for a nagging groin injury. After four hours of academics, it’s back to the gym for a team practice, followed by a game or a night of homework. He says he tries to end his day by catching an NBA game on TV.

Bains feels that the experience of being a varsity athlete can be extremely rewarding, given the right situation.

“I think the challenge of balancing school and sports makes you a better person and I can’t tell you how happy I am that I came here,” says Bains. “We are so supported by everyone from the president, to the athletics staff, to the students high-fiving us on our way to class. This is easily the deepest, most talented team I’ve ever played on and I can’t tell you how good it feels to be a part of something so special.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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