After his side’s 99-91 victory over London Lions, we caught up with Worcester Wolves’ captain Marek Klassen to talk about his path to the BBL, Wolves’ slow start to the season and their resurgence in 2017.
A forgettable start to this year’s campaign saw Worcester languishing towards the bottom of the league, a situation not helped by an array of injuries and a shorthanded roster. “We’ve had tough injuries to key guys and at some points early on we were travelling to games with just 5 healthy guys on the team sheet,” Klassen explained.
Going an impressive 5-2 in January and February, the Wolves are now safely back in the playoff picture and Klassen isn’t shocked by the turnaround: “the roster is now 8 or 9 strong, we’re settled and we know we have the pieces to beat the best teams in the league. We’ve always had a strong belief as a group and we knew our record didn’t reflect our ability.”
“For us, it’s now about staying healthy and remaining consistent to close out the year; so we’re able to take some real momentum into the post-season.”
“I want to give a real shout out to the fans, because they’ve been a real 6th man for us, despite the poor start to the year. When they’re cheering us on, or booing a bad call, it gives us a lift. There’s nothing better than playing in front of a sell-out home crowd in a great Arena like this one [University of Worcester Arena].”
Inspiring local support, and more specifically the next generation of basketball talent, is something Klassen is passionate about. “I love that part of the game, we do this job because we love basketball and to get the chance to go out into the community and inspire young people to take up the game [through Worcester Wolves’ community programme] is what it’s all about. Basketball is a great vehicle and we try to inspire the next generation: maybe they too can use it to go to college, make a career or simply keep out of trouble. My wife works at the university and I coach at the local college: I really value the link between basketball and education.”
Like many overseas imports to the BBL, Klassen’s pro career began in mainland Europe: “my first year out of college I went and played in Romania. It was a real great experience where I got to play against 5 EuroCup teams. The league [Liga Națională] was no joke, so you had to be ready everyday.”
An eye-open experience both on and off the court, the environment and culture brought their own challenges. “It was an interesting experience living in Romania, especially because I didn’t speak the language and communication was difficult. Our stadium and facilities were awesome, seating 6,000 people, but once you stepped outside you were faced with lots of poverty and large areas of deprivation. Experiencing such highs and lows was a real growth opportunity for me and gave me great perspective on how the game is played in other parts of the world.”
After 5 months Klassen made the switch to the UK and signed a contract with Leeds Force to play in the BBL. Having earned rave reviews in an incredible debut season, in which the Canadian guard averaged 17 points and 8 assists per game, Worcester Wolves Head Coach Paul James asked Klassen to join his team and remain in the UK. Whether that deal extends beyond this year remains to be seen, but for now Klassen continues to improve his craft: “playing here in the UK is totally familiar, it’s a comfortable experience very similar to what you find back home in Canada or in the States. It’s a complete contrast from playing in somewhere like Romania, where I would fight to complete basic tasks like ordering something to eat. Here it’s more about not falling into your comfort zone and staying hungry to better yourself each and every day.”
“I’ve had an awesome couple of years playing in the BBL but it’s all about finding the best situation for myself and my wife. I’ve loved my time in Worcester so far. We’ve had some ups and downs but every season is like that. At the end of the season we’ll talk with management and ownership and we’ll go again from there.”
“I don’t look too far ahead, I’m just going to keep working hard and look to improve everyday.”