Column: Time for MUN men to show some progress

John
John Browne
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I asked Peter Benoite in his office recently how he would rate his six years as coach of Memorial Sea-Hawks men’s basketball team.
There was a brief hesitation.
“Whoa, that’s a tough question,” he replied. “It depends what angle you go at it, right?”

As good as your players?

“Yeah,” he replied with a laugh, “That’s the standard answer. I’ve worked hard to try and do what we need to do and I think I’ve done that.”

Of that there is no question.

But five out of six seasons of last-place finishes is still a cold, hard fact that can’t be ignored.

Benoite has a long history with Memorial University and remains basically a legend in the local basketball and as well liked as anyone in the provincial sports community.

During his five years as a player with the Sea-Hawks (1993-1998), he led Memorial to its best-ever record of 16-4 in the 1996-97 campaign.

He served as an assistant coach with both the MUN women’s team (1999-2000) and the men’s AUS entry (2005-2007).

Unfortunately, Benoite hasn’t yet been able to translate his on-court success to the coaching ranks.

Memorial finished 4-16 this season, the best record so far under Benoite’s tutelage, but hardly something to crow about.

Fact is, the Sea-Hawks have been bad for a long time.

Benoite inherited a team that finished last and winless in the Atlantic Universities conference and the last year MUN made playoffs was the 2005-06 season under coach Todd Aughey.

The MUN mentor and former Sea-Hawks star said it’s fair to say he’s “evolving” as a coach.

“Are the there things I would change in my approach now looking back on it? Yeah, there are things I’d do a little bit differently,” said Benoite.

“I’m learning more...learning what I need to give more rope and when I need to rein in more. I think I’m doing a better job of trusting my players more. That being said, I feel the players are earning that trust.

“The big difference right now is that I feel I have a group of players who buy into what we want to do, our team philosophy. I’m not sure if we always had that.”

See CURCIC, page C2

Anyone who watched the Sea-Hawks play this season will tell you there’s talent on the squad and it appears to becoming together, if every so slowly.

You can’t deny the skill level of players such as second-team AUS all-star Vasilije Curcic and Davion Parnsalu who made the all-rookie team. Then there’s the dependable Caleb Gould and the developing Alpha Kisusi.

There is a genuine base of talent that could put it all together within two years.

It will probably mean finding a few more top-notch recruits from outside of the province as the local high school leagues haven’t proven to be much of a feeder system for the Sea-Hawks.

If the Sea-Hawks can somehow find a consistent outside shooter, Memorial could be the league’s surprise team in a year or two.

And I think, should that happens, the general concensus will be: It’s about time!

The loyal MUN supporters deserve a winning team sometime before the end of this decade.

•••••

Here are the Memorial Sea-Hawks varsity teams records and their final grade based on regular season:

Men’s basketball: (4-16) D+

Women’s basketball: (9-11) B-

Women’s volleyball: (6-10) C

Men’s volleyball: (0-17) F

Men’s soccer: (2-10-1) D

Women’s soccer: (5-4-4) B

PS: My predictions at the start of AUS basketball season: MUN men 4-16; MUN women 10-10.

•••••

Last weekend, the first annual Swilers junior high tag rugby competition was held at the Newfoundland and Labrador sports centre. Leary’s Brook, St. Paul’s, Macdonald Drive and St. John Bosco competed and, according to coach Morgan Lovell, the standard was pretty high.

“All 40 competitors enjoyed the event that, hopefully, promoted the game of rugby in the local schools,” said Lovell.

Mcdonald Drive came out winners, beating Leary’s Brook in the final.

Most kids in this province do not grow up playing rugby, but the sport is trying to educate the children at younger and younger ages. It seems to be paying off as we are producing some very talented young players these days.

The key to rugby’s survival was always introducing the game to kids before high school.

Most of our high schoolers have played hockey, soccer, baseball and softball by the time they reach high school. When high school rugby was first introduced at the high school level, the better athletes were a little resistant to trying a new sport because they didn’t know anything about the game and they didn’t want to look awkward.

Now rugby is being introduced at a very young age and into junior high so that the game isn’t foreign to high schoolers these days.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Sea-Hawks, Atlantic Universities, Sea-Hawks.If

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. Paul

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Recent comments

  • dale
    March 15, 2014 - 12:11

    Truth be told, varsity athletics here at mun has lacked serious leadership over the past decade or so. Michelle was a great basketball player but did not show the leadership we needed to advance our program and her record during her time speaks for itself. I know my fellow athletes are hoping a new leader when chosen will have the leadership skills to get our university athletics comparable to the maritime universities.

    • Brad
      March 17, 2014 - 09:17

      I agree with you Dale…..maybe someone at the helm with some real leadership skills will improve our athletic program.

  • Paul
    March 12, 2014 - 17:03

    I have known Peter since playing against him in high school and followed his playing and coaching career with admiration. I would be hard pressed to suggest a more capable Newfoundlander to lead the MUN men's team. There may be coaches with slightly more tactical expertise and experience but that gap is narrowing and his work ethic, integrity and his respect within the Newfoundland basketball community are unmatched. That Peter has struggled so much just goes to show the difficulty of the task facing the MUN men's coach. MUN no longer has home-grown players of the calibre of Mike Woods, John Devereux, and Peter himself but neither are Newfoundlanders succeeding at other Canadian and US schools as Tim Beckett, Chris Gill, Carl English, Saj Joseph, etc. once did. Plus even at the 1996-97 peak of the MUN program under Glenn Taylor MUN had a losing overall record (3-4) against teams with a +.500 record, a losing overall record away from St. John's (7-8) and lost in their first game at the AUS playoffs to 6th place (8-12) Acadia. I see only two paths for MUN to become a legitimate contender in the AUS. First, grassroots basketball in Newfoundland must start producing more quality talent to give MUN a decent talent base. Peter and MUN can help with this but given the demographic trends of the province it seems like both a slow and unlikely process unless perhaps there is an influx of oil/gas families from basketball hotbeds (Texas?) whose kids choose to play for MUN. Second, MUN can adopt the model of some other AUS/CIS schools lacking sufficient local talent of relying even more heavily on out of province players, particularly those with limited alternative options due to academics, the NCAA age limit, etc. While MUN is making some inroads in off-island recruiting it is an uphill battle and truly succeeding may require comprising some of the program's current standards. For this task it is also not clear that Peter's strengths and talents are superior to a hired gun from away. Clearly MUN faces a difficult challenge and how they fare against it seems like relevant news to me.

  • flexxa
    March 12, 2014 - 16:58

    ...and MUN cut the indoor tracks team in the early 90s due to funding regardless of the consistent success the teams had in the AUAA. A fraction of the athletes looking for a fraction of the funding to go to 2-3 meets a season - the banners are all there in the old gym - good thing or the rafters would be empty.

  • NL Sport fan
    March 12, 2014 - 11:40

    Yes John, they were motley again this year, yet you continue to write articles covering half a page of the sports section of the telegram on a weekly basis, while other sports which NL continuously excel in can't get a paragraph. Perhaps it is time that we stop covering these teams who are year after year, MOTLEY, and start covering teams in NL that are actually winning. Or leagues that are thriving, that people go and watch. Not saying the field house is empty by any means, but roughly how many attend Mens Volleyball games? This is one sports fan who cringes each time I open the paper to the Sports section to find a half/full page on Mun Mens basketball with players who aren't even from Newfoundland, sorry a Losing Mun Mens Basketball Team. Eight years since its last playoff game, give it a rest. PLEASE.