MarEK Klassen has been working off a blank canvas ever since setting foot in Leeds for the first time three months ago.
Offered a chance to extend his season after effectively being made redundant by a team in Romania, the 23-year-old point guard from Canada has proven to be a revelation for BBL hopefuls Leeds Force.
Coming into a country he didn’t know, and playing against teams he had never even heard of, Klassen’s fresh perspective has transformed a club that was striving to establish itself in the elite tier into a team that can now call itself a play-off one.
“When I arrived everything was new to me,” says Klassen, who despite suffering heavy defeats in his first two games in the league, helped Leeds Force win eight of their next 13 to storm into the play-offs.
“I didn’t know who Newcastle or Leicester were. How good they are was irrelevant to me.
“You want to beat every team you play and that’s all I know. Me coming in was like a fresh take for the rest of the guys.
“The first 10 games I played were against 10 different teams. None of those teams had scouted me, and I didn’t know them so I was able to have an impact.
“And as a team we’ve really been able to get after defences and be aggressive.
“I’m always pushing the guys and from their perspective when you’ve got someone new coming in and pushing you then that gives you a boost.”
Leeds head coach Matt Newby said in the lead up to last weekend’s wins over Manchester and Surrey that sealed a first play-off birth for Force, that Klassen’s strength has been how much he has developed the players he takes the floor with.
And while the man from Vancouver thrives on being a point guard that puts team-mates in a position to score, he has also not been shy of the hoop himself.
Indeed, last Friday against Manchester he scored 34 points, while against London Lions last month, Klassen recorded the first triple-double of his professional career with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Something similar tomorrow night (7.30pm Carnegie SportsAren a) in the first leg of the BBL play-off quarter-final would go a long way to helping the No 8 seed Force spring a surprise on the top-seeded league champions, Leicester Riders.
“Leicester have one of the biggest budgets and they’re coming off the league win but we’re prepared, have watched plenty of film on them and are determined to extend our season beyond this weekend,” said Klassen. “It’s a really big thing for Leeds Force to make the post-season and run with the big teams, considering the budget we have. We beat this team two weeks ago so we can’t be fearful. What we have going for us is everyone will be giving their heart and soul for the cause.”
And 24 hours later they will have to do the same again with the second leg in Leicester on Saturday night at 7.30pm.
Beyond that, Klassen will look to further his career again, knowing the impact he has had on Leeds has been reciprocated by the fact that playing on a play-off team has enriched his resumé.