At 74 years old, Coach Ken Shields was in Toronto on Monday doing what a true coach does, visiting his ailing athlete.
Cord Clemens, 56, was at home, limited in life and sick with cancer. He was coughing and wheezing, but when Shields left, the coach thought he would see his player once again when he boarded a flight home to Victoria from Toronto.
“It was a very jovial, a very enjoyable visit,” Shields said.
It was not to be.
Shields was shocked on Friday to find out cancer took Clemens’ life.
“He had a great sense of humour, he was fun to be around, and people who got to know him enjoyed his company.”
All of a sudden, within a span of four months, Shields has outlived two of his MVPs. Eli Pasquale, who was part of the first five championships and played for Canada’s national team, died from cancer in November at 59. Now to lose Clemens, who also centered Canada’s national team, so soon is something he says is simply “horrible.”
The giant seven-footer who played four seasons with the Vikes from 1983-87 was an integral part of the final three championships of the Vikes dynasty that won seven straight national titles between 1980 and 1987.
Clemens won his third and final national championship with the Vikes in the 1985-86 season and also won the Jack Donohue Trophy as the most valuable player of the CIAU Championship.
That year Clemens was named a Canada West First Team All-Star and a CIS Tournament All-Star, which he won three times.
As a person, he was someone you liked right away, Shields said. But as Shields added, a basketball player on the national university level, Clemens wasn’t ready.
Shields and the Vikes were the class of the national basketball scene but it was no easy sell to convince the 7-foot-tall Queen Elizabeth high school player out of Surrey. Clemens started at Langara when Shields convinced him he could be a fit with the machine Shields and Pasquale had built.
“[Cord] wasn’t focused on being his best, it took him time, and at times it was a struggle,” Shields recalled.
Of course, Clements did get his game together and made the already dominating Vikes even more intimidating. He was the MVP, all-Canadian first team, first-team Canada West all-star.
But it didn’t come naturally, Shields said.
“He wasn’t a tremendous athlete. But he was a smart player, he had a great sense of humour, and he was enjoyable to be around,” Shields said. “In his case, it was a struggle. It wasn’t an easy process. But in the end, all that’s really important was that he learned to apply himself. And that’s how he played for Canada.”