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Like a fine wine, basketball memories can be cherished over time
2021-05-11
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Sometimes the things that we most cherish become easier to identify with the passing of time.

Jeff McKibbon knows that he has much to be thankful for.

The long-time local educator recalled with comfort key phases of his development as an athlete, most notably as a basketball talent who would reach first team all-Canadian status during his time with the Laurentian Voyageurs.

Likewise, it was smiles all around as he reminisced of his time with his siblings, Tom and Susan, as the family moved from Tillsonburg to Sudbury, with stints in Alma and Flinton, eventually settling in Toronto as the future two-time OUA Conference MVP enjoyed a key developmental stretch while attending East York Collegiate.

His father, John, was a United Church minister, giving way to the frequency of relocations the McKibbon clan absorbed. Moreover, John was also an Olympian, a member of the Canadian basketball entry at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo. But John McKibbon was not just any old member of that team. He would lead the Canucks in scoring, finishing third overall in the tournament, averaging 16.9 points per game.

“Physically, he was an enormous presence in our household, but I never really fully appreciated what he had accomplished,” Jeff suggested, thinking back on the ties that bond a father and son tandem who excelled on the hardcourt, in the paint.

"I knew that he had been to the Olympics, but I didn’t know that he was Canada’s most outstanding player in international championships. I really didn’t know much of that, I am almost embarrassed to say, until later high-school or early university. I would bump into guys that would come out of the stands and say to me - you’ve got to be John’s kid.”

“I would hear stories about his prowess through former teammates, competitors or coaches,” McKibbon added. “That’s how I learned - it was never through him.”

That said, genetics are a wonderful starting point in sport.

To this day, the second generation talent will note that his first athletic love was hockey, that basketball really did not enter the mix until just before high-school. Yet even as his game progressed, as the hours and hours of practice gave way to an athlete who earned a spot on the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (Alabama) men’s basketball team prior to transferring to Laurentian, McKibbon had begun to learn the relative scale of his talents.

“When I was 19, I was selected as a member of the Toronto high-school team, a pretty big deal to me,” he said. “When my dad was that age, he was a starting forward with the national team. We were both 6’6” (or so), and that’s where the similarities end.”

OK - that might be a tad harsh. Fans of the sport, those who witnessed both John and Jeff in action would hint at a commonality in mindset that would help both to maximize their potential.

“Our intensity, the way that we approached competition, that might have been similar,” said Jeff. “In basketball, 6’6” is not small, but you are constantly running up against people that are taller and heavier. When height won’t suffice, you’ve got to call upon something else - the drive and intensity and will to succeed.”

Success would come, as would the failures. The NCAA experiment would last but one year.

“It wasn’t that common, at that point, for Canadian kids to come out of high school and go to the States, so I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said McKibbon. “I was utterly unprepared for the intensity of the experience down there. I was definitely behind, not so much on talent, but just my understanding of commitment and intensity.”

“I just wasn’t mature enough to understand that.”

That journey to the deep south, however, would pave the way to four straight OUA all-star accolades back home, returning to the very city where both of his parents had been raised. The ebb and flow continued through the 1986-1987 season, as McKibbon concluded his time as a Voyageur on a memorable team that ranked as high as #6 in the country at one point, but suffered a heart-breaking loss to Toronto in the playoffs.

One final appearance at the World University Games in Yugoslavia and it was time for McKibbon to move on. He would start his teaching career at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School in the fall of 1991, retiring from the Rainbow Board 27 years later.

Ironically, those early years in the profession also gave way to his time with the Sudbury Selects men’s basketball team, and yet another instance where the passing of time provides a much appreciated perspective.

“When you are 22 or 23, you are so immersed in the basketball experience that you almost don’t have time to be grateful for it,” explained McKibbon. “As you get older, even though you are not in any way physically diminished, you’ve stepped back from that crazy focus of competition.”

“You’re playing against opponents that you played in university, but you are so much less apt to dislike these more, and far more likely to respect their abilities.”

Blessed with a backcourt that included both Eli Pasquale and Norm Hann at one point, coupled with the inside presence of Brian Skeoch (6’10”), Jeff McKibbon and Adam Dusome (and others), the Selects could hold their own against virtually any men’s team in the province.

“Even though the basketball was not as structured, in the sense of coaching and practicing, you are still playing against guys that are as good as they have ever been,” noted McKibbon. “High-school basketball was great, basketball at Laurentian was great, but it’s a different level of enjoyment, a different experience at the men’s league level.”

“We were pretty lucky to play against a bunch of guys who were there to win, but who also understand that the experience of travelling together, of competing together is a reason to be grateful. I don’t know that we ever articulated that, but you certainly realized it.”

“Those were great years” - great years that were cherished, even more, with the passing of time.

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