IVARS KEPITIS (KEP) OBITUARY
16-12-1951 to 5-6-2006 (54 years)
What a huge shock it has been to lose Kep from our lives so suddenly and unexpectedly on June 5, 2006. It seems as if Kep has always been there and he does really represent the genesis and evolution and, in no small measure, the character of the La Trobe University Basketball Club.
Kep was a member of LTU's first ever University Games teams. Also he was an integral part of the first ever Tournament win by a La Trobe team which went to Albury in 1973. Readers will no doubt be intrigued to learn that Kep won the tournament MVP despite being fouled out in every game and therein probably lies the reason for his perplexity with referees. We have been able to dig up a photo of that victorious Albury tournament team which should impress all for the hairstyles of the day.
Kep was the first LTU Basketball player to be selected to the Green and Gold team and to be awarded a Full Blue by La Trobe University in 1973. He also played in the top division of Victorian State League basketball with Southern Districts in the early 1970s when that was the highest standard of ball around. After that he kept playing for Trober old boys teams throughout his life including twice a week during recent years in the 30+ competitions at Eltham and Bulleen. He more than held his own against players that were 20 years or even more his junior. Kep's (post 40 year old) effectiveness on court was greatly improved by FIBA introducing the offensive baseline inbound. This was made for Kep and he scored many points cruising in and providing a target that was hard to miss. It used to give the other team the shits (after 3 or 4 times) which he always enjoyed.
Sadly, but almost as if written into his destiny, he died while playing in a grand final for Trobers in the Eltham competition.
He also participated with great joy in all Masters Games competitions that the Trober old boys have entered from 40+ to 50+ age groups. Two of his highlights have been the Gold Medal win at the 2001 Masters in Newcastle in 2001 and the Bronze Medal win in Adelaide last year.
Dave Stillman ,who is one of the early ballbouncers as well as having been Kep's best man and the Godfather of Kep's son Matthew ,delivered the eulogy at Kep's funeral and reflected on his basketball as follows:
"Kep and I got to know each other on the basketball court at La Trobe University. He was a couple of years ahead of me, but we hit it off straight away because he was such a gentle, likeable bloke, yet he was a very fierce competitor. We went head to head in training more times than I'd like to remember. This was quite a traumatic experience for me because Kep was afflicted with a condition known as white line fever. When he crossed the white line onto a basketball court the neurons in his brain did a 180 degree turn. There was never a foul called on Kep that he agreed with, and if he was driving to the basket and you decided to stand in his way, then you did not deserve to be at university, because you were obviously deficient in intelligence".
"He was a big and skilful player, with a soft touch and good passing ability. He felt extremely honoured to be the first La Trobe basketball player to be awarded a University Blue and he also became President of the La Trobe Sports and Recreation Association, whilst obtaining a degree in Economics and a Diploma of Education Some years later, he also obtained an MBA at, of all places, the dreaded Monash University. Despite his early success as a basketballer, student and leader, I think one of the highlights of Kep's basketball career was winning a bronze medal in a La Trobe uniform at the Masters Games last year. He was thrilled with the win and the thing that made it so special for him was that he did it with mates he had known for years."
Some further analysis appears warranted about Kep's battles with referees lest those who did not know him well might suspect him of a personality glitch. Trevor Blainey sums it nicely:
" I still recall a certain dignity associated with his frequent disagreements with referees as to the true intent of the rules. Not for him the time honoured reaction to an errant call of say a Broadmeadows or Coburg player whereby a few choice words about the referees parentage and penis length would be followed by an elbow to the nearest LaTrobe head on the next trip up the court. For Kep it was a matter of impressing his wisdom on a mind that clearly for the time being had become confused and, well, unclear. It was therefore a problem that needed sorting and, not being one to defer or demur, it needed
sorting now. Thus many a game with our giant friend became an opportunity to expand everyone's understanding of the nature of the game, of rounding out everyone's knowledge of the rules and of improving the judgment of all those entrusted with interpretation thereof.
Viewed in that way its possible to conclude that Kep was a first class teacher and mentor to us all and that he was even big enough to include in his master class on life a group of people in referees who plainly didn't arrive here with a fully formed view as to the things that matter."
Kep also played a few seasons of football with Marcellin Old Boys in the Amateurs in the early 1980s. Very few people will know that he was listed for a full season in the Amateur record as Kep Smith. At that time sons of Iron Curtain refugees didn't compute with the "micks" at Marcellin who were only just getting used to players with vowels on the end of their names despite the very heavy Italian
sons influence at the club. So Kep Smith it was and Kep Smith it remained during his brief career with the Eagles.
Whilst there is much to be admired about Kep the sportsman; Kep the man was really special. Despite his "white line fever" propensity, as soon as the game was over he would immediately revert to his gentle character, always be up for a beer with his team-mates and you'd not hear any criticism or anger from him. In fact he never had a bad word to say about anybody and was free and fulsome with his praise of others. At his funeral it was no surprise to hear that he had never raised his voice in anger to his children.
After his second last game which was a semi-final at Bulleen against a relatively young side I,(Kim Di Marzio) as the coach ,apologised to Kep for the limited minutes he had been played. His response was " mate don't ever feel you need to apologise for that, I'm just happy to be a part of this bunch and any role is good enough for me". I remember leaving the stadium that night after a couple of beers with Kep and the others in the team and thinking how much I appreciated what he'd said and what a great guy Kep was. Of course I had no idea that was to be my last interaction with him.
He was not judgemental of people taking them as they came and showed plenty of interest in the lives of his friends and their families not just in sport but also in their studies or work or other activities and achievements. Kep was always great company.
Kep's professional life is impressive too. He held senior positions of trust with some of Australia's
leading companies and almost all of those involved the frequently problematic areas of human relations. Such positions are always entrusted to people of some substance who display care, judgment and maturity - traits which we know Kep possessed in spades. A number of us consulted Kep on a number of occasions about career matters which highlights another dimension of Kep the `elder statesman' in our lives from the LTUBC.
Kep was a devoted family man with a deep love for his wife Annette (also an LTU ballbouncer from the 70s) and his three children Krista, Matt and Andy. Krista is actually studying at LTU maintaining this Kepitis connection and who knows, we might also see Matt and Andy wearing the singlet in the not too distant future.
It is said that life's a journey. Those who have travelled any part of their journey with Kep have been blessed by his companionship.
Written by Kim Di Marzio, Dave Stillman, Barry Parsons and Trevor Blainey
Last Modified on 11/08/2006 16:04