Marek Klassen is one of the most memorable players in Abbotsford high school basketball history, but he might be flying under the radar in the minds of local fans these days.
While March Madness, the NCAA’s wildly entertaining single-elimination Division 1 championship tournament, shines a bright light on Canadian hoopsters playing south of the border, the exposure isn’t to the same level for those in the Div. 2 ranks.
That’s where Klassen finds himself – he’s playing at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), an NCAA Div. 2 program in San Diego.
But rest assured, Klassen is making a name for himself in southern California. The dynamic 6’1” point guard, B.C.’s high school player of the year in 2010, is coming off a fantastic junior season with the PLNU Sea Lions.
He was named a Pacific West Conference honourable mention all-star after averaging 12.8 points per game and shooting 41 per cent from three-point range, and capped the campaign by guiding his squad to a National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA) championship last week in Indiana.
“It’s cool to end the season on a win,” Klassen told The News. “There’s so few teams in college basketball that get to do that each year.”
Klassen knows a thing or two about ending with a win. In 2010, he led the Yale Lions to the B.C. AAA championship, racking up 25 points and 17 rebounds in a 49-40 title-game victory over White Rock Christian Academy.
He subsequently signed with Point Loma, an NAIA program at the time which moved up to NCAA Div. 2 in 2012.
Klassen was in the starting lineup from the get-go played for the Sea Lions during their last two NAIA seasons, then took a redshirt year because Point Loma was on probationary status for two seasons as they transitioned to NCAA Div. 2. The goal was to extend his eligibility to the 2014-15 season, which is the first year the Sea Lions will be eligible for post-season play, including the Div. 2 version of March Madness.
“I spent last year lifting and getting stronger, and I don’t think it hurt me at all,” said Klassen, who is studying business and will have bachelor’s and master’s degrees by the end of his five-year tenure at Point Loma. “I think it was a really good decision.”
Because the Sea Lions weren’t eligible for the Div. 2 playoffs this year, the national Christian colleges tourney was the pinnacle of their season. They upset top-seeded Azusa Pacific in the West regional final, then defeated Union University of Tennessee, Southern Nazarene of Oklahama, and Elite Eight tourney host Grace College of Indiana en route to the championship.
Klassen notched 13 points – second-most on the team – along with four assists and four rebounds in the final vs. Grace College.
“It was really good for us to win this tournament – I think we’re going to go into next year confident,” Klassen said, looking ahead to his season season. “Honestly, I think with the talent level on our team, we can be at the level it takes to win a tournament next year.”