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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Senior class bids farewell to home

Four guys from very different backgrounds once arrived here at Bowling Green to play basketball. One transferred from Wright State. One came out of the storied athletic program at Canton McKinley High School. One came from the same high school as coach Dan Dakich. One came from Nebraska. Together, they helped rebuild BG from post-Antonio Daniels mediocrity to one of the top programs in the Mid-American Conference, winning 77 games, including 48 MAC games, in their four years.

Last night, Brandon Pardon, Keith McLeod, Len Matela and Brent Klassen played their last games at Anderson Arena. They left the floor winners, defeating Buffalo 73-58 and clinching the third seed in next week’s MAC Tournament as Ohio lost to Toledo.

With 4:39 left, Klassen was the first to step off the Anderson court for the final time. The Nebraska native trotted toward the bench to a standing ovation from the crowd. He embraced Dakich before being greeted by his teammates.

After the game, Klassen was noticeably choked with emotion as he addressed the crowd. Dakich said Klassen’s impact on the team was as large off the court as on it.

“On road trips, anybody sitting with Brent is always smiling, always laughing,” he said.

The Falcons had gone 41-17 when Klassen started.

With less than a minute, the remaining three seniors left the court to a standing ovation during a time out. Matela, McLeod and Pardon each brought something different to the program.

Len Matela came out of the same high school in Indiana as Dakich. He came to BG as a skinny kid who hated conditioning, according to Dakich. But, through his four years, Matela has become the kind of player who now pushes his teammates to work harder in practice. Matela will finish his BG career in the school’s all-time top 15 in scoring.

Keith McLeod from Canton McKinley has had one of the sharpest rises in the history of the program. Prior to last season, he was slightly above average. But something changed last year. Dakich said it happened at a practice last season when he suddenly stepped up and yelled at his teammates for not trying hard enough. Since then, he has been one of the best all-around players in the conference and one of the best scorers in the country. He is now in the top ten in the nation in scoring, and he is being routinely scouted by NBA teams.

Dakich said McLeod has come a very long way from the isolated kid who arrived on campus as a freshman not really knowing anybody besides his high-school girlfriend.

“Keith is a truly remarkable story,” Dakich said. “I have never been around any player in my entire life who works harder than Keith.”

Brandon Pardon was one of the first players Dakich tried to recruit at BG. He said assistant coach Keith Noftz called him up days before he was to be named the BG head coach in 1997 and told him he needed to get Pardon. When Dakich called Pardon, he got silence at the other end of the line. After a moment, Pardon told him he had already made a commitment to Wright State.

After Wright State played BG in Pardon’s freshman year, Dakich said he still wanted Pardon at BG. Then, Pardon decided to transfer, and Dakich got his wish. Pardon is now one of the top assist men in the nation, a driver and passer before being a shooter.

Pardon, too, was choked up as he addressed the crowd.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend four years of my life,” he said.

As teammates and as team leaders, the seniors helped create a stable environment that helped dig the Falcons out of a slow start last year and helped them be one of the MAC’s biggest surprises this year. After 15 wins last season, they have a chance to win 23 games with a victory at Ohio in the regular season finale Saturday.

Four guys, all distinct, yet interdependent, fit together like four puzzle pieces on the court, each in his own role. In the case of Brandon Pardon, Brent Klassen, Len Matela and Keith McLeod, the sum is greater than the parts that make it. It’s the reason why this team could be playing well into March.

“What can I say?” Keith McLeod said. “This is like a family here. I wouldn’t ask for nothing else.”

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