By Michael Sun, the Charlatan
OTTAWA — As the clock wound down on Calvin Epistola and Sean Stoqua’s university basketball careers, a special moment came up.
With around two minutes remaining in the U Sports consolation finals game between the Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Alberta Golden Bears, there was a stoppage in play as both sides subbed off their graduating seniors. It would be their last time on the floor during in a university game.
For the Gee-Gees, it meant the end for guards Calvin Epistola and Sean Stoqua. Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin asked the PA announcers for that moment, where the seniors would be honoured. The referees also honoured the stoppage. Fans from both sides stood up at cheered at Carleton’s Ravens Nest.
“Sometimes the fans don’t see it or hear it and they were gracious enough to hold the game,” Derouin said. “The combination of the moment, with the referees…just a classy move all around by everybody. The Carleton people were really touched, which says a lot.”
According to him and his players, Epistola and Stoqua have both not only grown as basketball players but as people as well. Their career may be over but their impact on their teammates remains forever.
It seems fitting Stoqua would end his career at Carleton. His dad, Pat Stoqua, was a dual-sport star with the Ravens – in basketball and football. Pat was inducted into the Ravens Hall of Fame in 1996.
Stoqua followed in his dad’s footsteps as a dual-sport athlete himself. The Stittsville native came from a sporting family. His great-grandfather was a member of the original Ottawa Silver Seven and won a Stanley Cup. His grandfather played in the CFL while other family members also played varsity basketball (Jennifer Stoqua at Carleton and Brendan Stoqua at Acadia).
He would have ended up at Carleton if they had a football program back in 2011, when he started his university sports journey. It’s lasted nine years.
Stoqua played defensive back at Acadia as well as guard on the court but suffered numerous injuries over the years. He eventually transferred to Ottawa, where he focused on basketball and battled through more injuries.
“That I’m going to keep going,” he said about what he learned about himself. “No matter what, I’m going to keep going.”
He had the chance to play at nationals in Ottawa in 2013 and now again in 2020. He remembers the team success but also the moments in between. “The time with the guys that you remember the most,” he said. “The hard times too, from the surgeries to taking the time off.”
Derouin said Stoqua’s dedication to his body and academics stands out. “He’s just an incredibly hardworking kid and really really an honour to be his coach here the last three years,” he said.
Stoqua’s did his physiotherapy degree in French – his second language – and recently became a registered physiotherapist. He hopes to keep playing as well. “I’m hoping this won’t be the end of me either in terms of sports,” he said.
When he was subbed off for the final time and the buzzer went, gratitude sank in.
“I was just grateful,” Stoqua said. “Grateful I got to end it on my terms after my injuries. Grateful that I got to do it in my hometown in front of friends and family and grateful I got to do it with this group of guys.”
Epistola would eventually become the leader for that group, the heart of the Gee-Gees. He describes himself as a quiet guy. Teammates describe him as a compassionate person as well. It comes from his heritage.
Epsitola’s parents came from the Philippines to Canada provide a better life for themselves and their children. “When they had me and my brother, they did everything to make sure that me and my brother had it better than they had,” he said.
His parents would come to many of his games – coming from Toronto – while Epistola carried on his family’s values in how he was as a leader. Kindness and relationship building was at the core of it all.
“I learned early that making relationships, going out of your way to say hi, being respectful, you play for more than yourself,” he noted. Being a good teammate and person and competing became his focus through his time at Ottawa. “Everything else [after that] will fall into place,” he said.
As a quiet person, relationships with all his teammates was a central part of his life. “He genuinely cares about each of us as people and it’s bigger than basketball,” Stoqua said.
The relationships helped him as a leader later on in his career, as he took on a bigger role, according to Derouin. However, those relationships were genuine. “He’s not doing it for any reason,” Derouin said. “He just does it because he cares about these guys and he’ll care about them forever.”
Epistola also continued to grind and improve as well through his five seasons. Derouin pointed out how he was an example of someone who continued to work hard and get better each and every year.
Epistola finished his career as a U Sports First-Team All-Canadian, one of the top players in the nation. He battled through an ankle injury suffered in the OUA playoffs to play at nationals. In the consolation semi-finals against the Bishop’s Gaiters, his teammates repaid the favour.
Second-year forward Guillaume Pepin hit the game-winning three-pointer to give Epistola and Stoqua another game.
“It’s funny because after the game, [Epistola] thanked me for that,” Pepin said. “At the half, we told each other, this won’t be our last 20 minutes so let’s go get that one and that’s what we did.”
In his final game, he got a chance to play against two high school teammates – fellow graduating seniors Brody Clarke and Dwan Williams on Alberta (from Oakwood Collegiate).
Now, Epistola said he wants to play professionally. He said he’ll miss the relationships and memories with his Gee-Gees teammates, the ones he helped create.
Immediately after the Alberta game, Epistola and Stoqua shared the moment with friends and family; Stoqua’s family from Stittsville and Epistola’s from Toronto. It was the end of an era – nine years for Stoqua and five years for Epistola.
Derouin called it “great” to have the family support along the way, their sacrifice and now having them enjoying the final game.
“Sean’s dad is sort of a permanent sports fixture at Carleton,” he noted. “You see Calvin’s parents at pretty much every event and they make their trip from Toronto to make sure they’re at as many games. It’s just awesome.”
– M. Sun