Former players look back on what became a dynasty
It was the simplest of explanations as to why Mount Pearl Senior High Huskies basketball team became a dynasty in the mid-’90s.
“That team was special because all we did was play basketball. … We were freaks,” says former Huskies guard John Coaker.
“Special,” as in 103 straight wins.
Playing as much hoops as possible was encouraged by coach Gary Sooley, whose sons Michael and Glen were part of the record-making team.
Coaker, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., said the Mount Pearl coach took the team to several basketball clinics and tournaments, scheduled extra games and “let us play any time we wanted.”
He remembers one evening at the Mount Pearl gym when he was playing full court, one-on-one with Glen Sooley.
“Every time you scored you had to rush to mid-court, enter your points and rush back to defense,” recalls Coaker.
“This Friday night we were playing until close to 11 p.m. before we left which was pretty common at the time for us.
“I remember leaving through the side door and there were some kids outside who were spooked by someone walking out of the gym so late at night. They made a comment something along the lines of, ‘Who is that coming out of the gym? Oh, it’s Coaker, that basketball freak,’ or something like that,” Coaker said with laugh.
“Truth is, though,” he added, “we were all basketball freaks. That’s all we did. We lived, breathed and ate basketball.”
Coaker said if the guys weren’t playing an organized game they were playing pick-up ball in the gym.
He said it was a special bond because they had the same love for the game and a competitive spirit.
“Those were a good bunch of guys and talented,” he said of his teammates.
Coaker, who was born in Gander, left the province in 2000 for a job with IBM, and now works for Allstate Corporation.
His parents worked for the provincial government and so he moved around a lot.
“We lived in Gander, Clarenville and Yellowknife, N.W.T. for a few years before we came to Mount Pearl in Grade 9,” he said.
Coaker, who went on to star for Memorial University, follows the Sea-Hawks, “although not as diligently as I should.”
He says he tries to meet with MUN coach Peter Benoite and former players Loren Keilly and Bobby Cook anytime he gets back home in the summer, although he spends most of his time fly fishing on the Gander River with family, along with his two daughters and his wife.
He said he doesn’t see many of his former Mount Pearl teammates.
“When I went on to play for MUN, we sort of grew apart,” he noted.
The only former Huskies teammate he’s stayed in touch with over the years is Tim Beckett.
Beckett, and his younger brother Steve, both six foot eight, were unstoppable in their brief time as Huskies.
The Mount Pearl Becketts have lived and worked in New York for years.
Tim Beckett’s been working on Wall Street for 15 years and is now the managing director at Falcon Global Partners, an investment management business. He’s often off on trips to Korea, Hong Kong, China and Germany where he gets to spend some time with former teammate Todd Taylor who is living and working in Munich.
But, like most Newfoundlanders, he’s drawn back home from time to time. He takes his kids back to the island of his birth at least once a year and says they love it and “feel as free as a bird.”
His has two sons, William and Henry, the latter already standing four foot six at seven years old and with a penchant for hoops.
“They have king names, but they act like jesters,” Beckett said with a laugh.
“I guess we did something special there,” he said when asked to recall the record at Mount Pearl, “but you don’t realize it at the time. Looking back, we had a pretty good run. I don’t recall even playing in a close game,” said Beckett who still refers to the coach as “Mr. Sooley.”
“I can’t remember a whole lot about the year I played because it was a long time ago and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast,” said Beckett.
“It all kind of fell into place,” he adds, saying he’s still surprised the team went three straight seasons undefeated.
“I don’t know if it will ever be duplicated,” he said.
Tim, who played briefly for Canada’s national junior team before an injury set him back, went on to play for Hofstra University in Long Island in the NCAA’s American East Conference. When he finished four years with the Flying Dutchmen (now nicknamed Hofstra Pride) he was the team’s all-time leader in three-pointers with 158.
He still follows U.S. college basketball and one of his employees is the son of University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, so they’ve taken in a few Cardinals’ games over the years.
Steve Beckett, who lives 15 minutes away from Tim in New York City, is a union insulator doing construction in the Big Apple, including work on the 105-storey Freedom Tower which has replaced the Twin Towers.
He said the team started playing together in Grade 7 and grew up together, and he still remembers going away each year to a tournament outside the province.
“As we got a little older and a little bigger, we really came together and there was no stopping us.”
Beckett said he stays in touch with some of the high school players from Mount Pearl.
Five years ago, the Becketts, along with John Coaker “and a couple of guys from O’Donel,” went to St. Louis to take in the Final Four.
He said he still talks to former teammate Terry Chaytor every weekend. Although he played high school basketball, Chaytor is probably better known as a rugby player.
Though he left home in 1994, Steve Beckett still returns to the province each summer to do some cod fishing with his family who run a bed and breakfast in Trinity Bay.
Asked if he considered himself a New Yorker now after all these years, Beckett said, “No, I’m a Newfoundlander always. I’ve got the Newfoundland flag tattooed on my leg and the Canadian flag tattooed on my chest.”