Memorial Sea-Hawks men’s basketball team is undersized, a few seniors seniors didn’t play well in a pre-season tournament in British Columbia and the team defence leaves a lot to be desired.
Other than that, Peter Benoite feels his team has a shot at the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference post-season.
“I’m not into promises, but I will say that if the guys learn to give a total effort on defence, I will be very surprised if we do not end up in the playoffs,” said the former Sea-Hawks’ star-turned-coach.
The MUN fans not so much, perhaps.
After all, the last time Memorial made the playoffs, it 2005-06. Since then, MUN’s record is 17-87.
But for Benoite, ever the optimist, each new season brings a renewed promise of hope, however irrational.
Memorial opens the 2011-12 season eight o’clock tonight against Saint Mary’s Huskies at the Field House. The teams play again 1 p.m. Sunday.
“Even though we didn’t pick up a win in Vancouver,” said Benoite, “we learned a lot about our team and I’m still very optimistic for the season.
“We have a team that can put the ball in the basket and if we can focus in on the defensive end, we could be a very dangerous team to play, and no doubt we will start knocking off some wins.
“We are undersized, and its going to be difficult,” Benoite admitted, “but I feel that if each guy gives effort on the defensive end, we will give ourselves a chance to ride out phases of the game when we are not scoring.”
Benoite said the recent University of British Columbia tournament was a great experience for the Sea-Hawks, even though they lost to Fraser Valley, Thompson Rivers University and the host team.
Other than that, Benoite said, “It was a good trip to Vancouver, as most of the guys had never been there and we got to enjoy a little bit of the city taking some time to explore Stanley Park.”
It’s called team bonding, but what the Sea-Hawks really need is more wins after a 3-17 campaign that saw them finish dead last in the eight-team league last year.
The Vancouver trip was a bit of an eye opener for the Sea-Hawks.
“I was pleased with certain aspects of our game,” said Benoite. “I thought we did some things well offensively and competed pretty hard, but I was not pleased with our total defensive effort. We gave up 100, 90, and 101 points. Allowing that many points game in and game out will make it very difficult for us to win.”
The MUN coach said he was pleased with the younger players on the squad throughout the tournament.
D’Avontai Moore, a recruit from Brampton, Ont., shot 67 per cent and averaged almost five boards a game.
“He had a strong weekend for us and is showing some good promise. He rebounded well and made good decision on the offensive end,” Benoite said.
He was also pleased with Caleb Gould (Newmarket, Ont.) and Ryan Wood (out of Gonzaga High School) because, “they played with a lot of effort and worked extremely hard on the defensive end.
“Gould is giving us good effort at the No. 5 spot and I expect him to get more playing time as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable. He’s a bit undersized for his position (centre) at 6-5, but he works very hard, runs the floor and has good hands. He is able to finish inside as well. He’ll need some better footwork and add some strength, but he is a nice addition.
“Wood is also giving us a physical presence and doesn’t mind playing aggressive.
“He will need to improve his decision making, but as a rookie, I’m pleased with his performance to date.”
Meanwhile, Benoite said third-year Mike Helsby, an AUS rookie team all-star, had a good tournament and was Memorial’s most consistent player on both ends.
He indicated Robbie Habib played very well offensively for (shooting 51 per cent for the tourney and averaging eight rebounds a game), “but he had some struggles on the defensive end. He will have to improve that area of his game and be more of a complete player.”
He was less pleased with some of his veterans.
“I was hoping to get a better overall performance from our seniors. They are very important to our performance and they will have to pick up their games once we get going.
“I’m expecting a lot out of the veterans, particular our fifth-year seniors. They will have to carry the load for us and will have to perform,” said Benoite.
“You can’t win in this league without leadership and experience.”
The MUN coach said he didn’t feel Jason Shepherd or Mark Woodland played to their level in Vancouver and he expects more from them once the AUS season begins.
Shepherd, who led the team with 15 points per game two years ago, was third on the team last season at 13.5 ppg.
“Jason had a good game against TRU, but struggled against Fraser Valley and UBC. Mark played with lots of effort, but didn’t shoot well. That may have been a factor of having to play the point for us, but he will have to improve his efficiency on the floor.”
Woodland’s 14.5 ppg. last season was behind leader Habib’s 18.2 ppg.
“However,” added Benoite, “once Mark and Shep play to the level that they are capable of, and we get rolling on all cylinders, we will be very tough to stop.”
Benoite also pointed out the Sea-Hawks didn’t have Justin Alliman for the tournament as he was dealing with an ankle injury.