Small campus, big dreams

Halifax basketball talent bound for NCAA school in Illinois




SaltWire Network


St. Mark’s prep-school senior Ethan Karabanow checked his Southborough, Mass., campus mailbox one April morning and found a gift from Lake Forest College in Illinois. “They gave me a little surprise and sent me a pair of Lake Forest socks,” said the Halifax native who has been recruited to play NCAA Division 3 basketball with the Foresters, just 30 miles north of Chicago. “That was nice. It’s the little things that matter, make you feel like they actually care about you, which is always a good thing. “They’re comfy socks in the team colours, red and black. My mom loves comfy socks, so it’ll probably be a little gift for her.” Karabanow already senses a comfort zone with Lake Forest as he prepares to make the jump to collegiate basketball next fall. During and after the recruiting period, the St. Mark’s captain and MVP appreciated the personal touch of Foresters coach Ryan Davis. “I was talking to a few other amazing schools as well, (but) I just didn’t have the same feeling towards those other schools as I did with Lake Forest,” said the sixfoot-one, 185-pound point guard. “I’m super fortunate about how things turned out and being able to attend Lake Forest next year. “Before I even visited (the college), the coach was very interested. He reached out very often. It wasn’t even always to talk about basketball. It was just about how I’m doing and what school is like for the rest of the semester. It just showed how he really cares about his players, that we’re more than just an athlete, we’re actually a person. You want a good relationship with your coach. And some of the players reached out as well.” Immersed in his St. Mark’s high school season at the time, Karabanow flew to Illinois for a short but impactful one-day visit at Lake Forest. “When I was able to get on campus, I saw it’s a tight-knit community with not a whole ton of students,” he said. “My school right now is also a pretty small school and I think I thrive in a small community where I know the majority of the students and the faculty. I got a home-like sense when I visited.” Karabanow, who turned 19 in December, was home in Halifax for all of last year because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out his team’s season. He continued his St. Mark’s education online and kept his NCAA hoops dreams alive while training rigorously in Nova Scotia. “I made the most of the situation and I was in the gym very often,” said Karabanow, who grew up in Halifax gyms and played junior high school basketball at Goresbrook. “I continued to work as hard as I would have if I was here at school. I actually had more opportunities at home to work out. I think I got a lot better. “Everyone went through a really difficult time last year. I was lucky to even have a ball in my hands at some point.” His progression showed this past fall and winter as university scouts watched him play a leadership role with a mostly young and inexperienced St. Mark’s team in the Independent School League (ISL) in New England. He went on to average 13 points per game, eight assists and seven rebounds. “At the beginning of the season, I hadn’t played in an official game in (almost two years), so I was pretty much solely focused on scoring a lot of points, just getting my name out there,” Karabanow said. “But then, I learned very quickly that I can’t do it all on my own. I had a lot of talks with my coach about that. He pretty much said to me, ‘For you to make it in the next level, meaning college, you need to play like a college player and you’ve got to do what you are going to do in college.’ “I know my role in college is going to be getting everyone else involved in the game. There are thousands of people that are just like me, but finding ways to differentiate yourself (is crucial). I pride myself in my playmaking ability and getting everyone else involved and doing the little things that really count at the end of and during games. I feel like that’s where, gradually through the season, I began getting more attention not solely just off my scoring ability but also for getting everyone involved and doing all the little things.” An off-court adjustment last year also helped Karabanow keep his eyes on the prize. He shot wide of Twitter while waiting for basketball to bounce back from COVID. “When I wasn’t playing, I would go on Twitter and I would see all these guys getting offers and committing to schools,” he said. “It was a bit discouraging and I was getting down on myself a bit, so I just deleted Twitter and wanted to start fresh. “I don’t know, maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t. But I’ve got it back now. I’m feeling good now. I’m back on track, so it’s all good.” Although masks were mandatory at his school and even on the court during games, there was no masking Karabanow’s ability as he pushed his way into the college picture. In the process, he chewed gum, which has become his latest routine while playing basketball. “It calms me down and makes me focused and locked in,” he said. “It’s different, but I think I’m going to continue it.” Off the court, he’s particularly protective of his varied collection of basketball shoes. “That’s my prized possession. I have a little rack at school for them and people in the dorm know not to mess with them. I keep my shoes in plain sight. I like having them in my room. It’s just nice looking at them.” The prospects look bright for Karabanow, who has an exemplary 3.6 grade-point average at St. Mark’s. He has expressed an interest in studying journalism, but more recently has considered education studies. He wants to become a high school teacher, guidance counsellor and basketball coach. “I love working with kids and working alongside other people,” said Karabanow, whose engaging personality and co-operative nature have served him well. His natural athletic ability extended to lacrosse this spring as he suited up alongside his St. Mark’s friends in the competitive ISL, despite not playing the sport previously. “It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. Playing a defensive role in an aggressive sport like lacrosse has only strengthened him on his path toward college basketball. “One thing I’ve noticed, especially at the professional level, everyone is really strong and there’s no room for weakness,” Karabanow said. “Especially at the college level, some of these guys are grown men and they’ve been there for three or four years. It’s not a child’s game anymore. I’ve been really focusing on my body and just making sure I’m going to be able to compete next year.”