It is always wonderful to catch up with the Dean of CIS Head Coaches, Hall-of-Famer Steve Konchalski (he gets that handle even though there is no CIS Hall-of-Fame per se – another issue altogether) given his long, storied career at St. FX and, many may not know, as an All-Canadian player at Acadia in the 60’s. And it is his playing career that provides the focus for why next weekend’s Stu Aberdeen Memorial Classic at Acadia will be that much more special.
For those who are not current with CIS/AUS history, Aberdeen, a native of Lewiston, NY, coached the Axemen for 8 seasons through 1966, directing his teams to six conference championships, five Maritime/AUS titles, a CIAU National championship crown and an overall 122-50 coaching record. During his career, the Axemen established a streak of 42 consecutive wins that became recognized as a CIAU record (since broken ? – CIS record book is on the same “to do” list as CIS Hall-of-Fame?). Aberdeen then went on to an Associate Coaching position at Tennessee with the Volunteers before landing the head coaching job at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Tragically, Coach Aberdeen died of a sudden heart attack in 1978 at the tender age of 43 after just his second season with the Thunderin’ Herd.
Mid-way through Aberdeen’s tenure at Acadia, the resourceful Head Coach was able to recruit, through his friendship with another Hall-of-Fame high school coach Jack Curran, a little-known guard from legendary Archbishop Malloy in New York City named Steve Konchalski. As the story goes, Konchalski’s parents were reluctant to send their son to another country but the Acadia AD at the time promised to take young Steve (just 17 years old at the time) to Catholic church each Sunday, a promise the AD kept each and every week of Steve’s playing career – and a legend was born.
Aberdeen’s final 4 seasons at Acadia established the Axemen as a Canadian National basketball power, winning 4 consecutive Maritime intercollegiate championships and the ’65-’66 National championship with Konchalski as a top scorer. Konchalski set a CIAU National championship single game record with 41 points and finished an Acadia Hall-of-Fame career with 4 straight appearances in the CIAU championship game.
As part of this season’s Stu Aberdeen Classic, Acadia will have a formal ceremony including bringing in Aberdeen’s widow Lynn and family that will officially crown their home floor as “Stu Aberdeen Court”. What will make it extra special for Coach K is that he will be on the sidelines with X in the first game ever on the newly-named floor after his great Coach.
“Being able to coach in the game during which Acadia will name their floor after Stu Aberdeen is one of the highlights of my career and next Saturday will definitely be a special night for me”, explained Coach K. “Even more special is that it will mark 50 years ago that Coach Aberdeen and I were together as player and coach.”
Of course, Coach K added two more very little known anecdotes involving the great Jack Donohue and Canada’s first-ever N.B.A. first round pick Leo Rautins. Most Canadian hoop historians know that Rautins played his first season of N.C.A.A. basketball in the Big 10 with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (finished 2nd in the Big 10 in assists to some guy named Earvin “Magic” Johnson). Rautins made it known that he would transfer from Minnesota after his freshman year but what few recall is that Leo had made up his mind to play for Coach Stu Aberdeen at Marshall until tragedy struck.
Coach K recalls the night that the Canadian national team was en route home from a European trip with a stop over at JFK Airport. During the lay-over, Donohue was advised of Aberdeen’s sudden passing and was tasked to advise young Leo that his college coach-to-be had passed. As most know, Rautins transferred to Syracuse instead and led the Orange to the inaugural Big East title – a picture of Leo adorns the Carrier Dome to this day. The other little known fact is that Rautins as a 16 year old was asked by Donohue to join Canada’s Senior national team – two weeks after being cut by the Ontario Provincial team !!! In his first practice with the Senior team, Rautins dunked on 7’0″ Jim Zoet, who had a cup of coffee in the League, and the rest is history.
Congratulations to Acadia for taking this step to re-recognize Stu Aberdeen as a pioneer in Canadian and CIS basketball with a very special honor and especially for allowing his protege, the great Steve Konchalski, the honor of directly participating in the special ceremony, capping over 50 years of Canadian basketball history.