Veteran coach adds expertise

John
John Browne
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MUN MEN'S BASKETBALL

"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."

- John Wooden, former coach of UCLA

Martin Cull's satisfaction in coaching basketball has always come from athletes willing to work hard and improve and the level of play has never been a factor.

Cull has coached at every stage of the game over a long career and plans to continue, "as long as there's a need somewhere."

Martin Cull is part of a new coaching staff that will look to revive Memorial University's men's basketball program. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."

- John Wooden, former coach of UCLA

Martin Cull's satisfaction in coaching basketball has always come from athletes willing to work hard and improve and the level of play has never been a factor.

Cull has coached at every stage of the game over a long career and plans to continue, "as long as there's a need somewhere."

New staff

Cull, along with fellow assistant coach Evan Constantine, a former Sea-Hawks player, is part of a new coaching staff that will look to revive Memorial University's men's basketball program that garnered only five wins in the past two Atlantic University Sport (AUS) seasons.

"Basically," Cull said, "you enjoy coaching a team mainly based on the attitude of the players. When they come with a work ethic and want to be coached, that for me is the key.

"Otherwise, it's a battle that's just not worth it."

He said he needed a break this winter from the high school scene where he was a convenor and coached a couple of teams as well.

He had intended to coach a single junior high team this year, but when the opening came for an assistant's job under head coach Peter Benoite at Memorial, Cull felt it would be a good fit.

Cull said it was important that Benoite and himself are on the same page in terms of coaching tactics and philosophy.

"It would be hard to coach at MUN with someone I didn't know in terms of coaching," said Cull. "Because if he is going off in one direction and I'm in another direction, that would be really hard for me to adjust to.

"Obviously, you compromise somewhat, but I have my ways of doing things over the years," he said with chuckle.

So far, four games into the regular Atlantic universities season, Cull says the MUN experience has been, "very good. The players have been very receptive. It's a very young team and they have a very good attitude."

Cull, a member of Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association's Hall of Fame, said the biggest difference is coaching at the university level compared to high school is the maturity of the players and the fact that parents are not a factor, "as they are at the high school level."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an Irish mother and a Newfoundland father who met and married during the Second World War, Cull came to this province as a four-year-old. He attended a one-room, K-to-9 school in his father's hometown of St. Anthony where he remembers gathering wood for the school's stove more than once during the winter months.

He moved to St. John's at age 10 where he attended St. Patrick's Hall School.

Cull, who later attended Brother Rice High School and played for the Celtics' Grade 11 hoops team, began his coaching career in 1968 at St. Bon's. Until he went to Brother Rice, Cull said he didn't know anything about basketball, although he recalls playing his first game in Grade 9 on the outdoor court at St. Pat's.

A member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers from 1964 to 2000, Cull retired from teaching in 2001. He coached at several schools in St. John's over the years, including Brother Rice, St. Pius X and Gonzaga as well as in Placentia, Corner Brook and British Columbia. He coached Gonzaga Vikings senior high school girls' team to their first-ever St. John's basketball championship in 2000.

He says the two biggest coaching influences on him were Indiana University's Bob Knight and especially UCLA's John Wooden. He attended a Knight coaching clinic in 1986, but his coaching philosophy leans more towards Wooden. He's read 10 of Wooden's books.

Cull's particular coaching style doesn't always get unanimous positive reviews, but few would argue he is one of the best and one of the most respected basketball coaches in the province. For some, he's too old school, but he was just what Benoite was looking for when he took over the reigns from Todd Aughey this season.

"Martin has always been able to develop strong teams," says Benoite. "His number one focus has always been the team and that is still true today. He doesn't cater to individual agendas and puts the team above all. He has always expected discipline and commitment. He has relaxed somewhat over the years, and has become more lenient, but I don't think too many of the current players would believe me.

"I think it took a little while, but the guys have warmed up to him," noted Benoite. "All coaches have their different approaches. Martin's is from a purest point of view. He wants and expects the game to be played the right way, and doesn't expect anything less.

"He is very intelligent and knows more about the game then I will ever know. He is such a valuable resource and has the best interests of the players and the team in mind.

Cull and Benoite go a long way back, so the head coach's decision to add the veteran mentor to MUN's program wasn't unexpected.

"I remember Martin running a tryout for the Grade 9 team at Laval High School (in Placentia)," recalls Benoite. "I was at St. Edwards at the time (1988). I got selected for the Grade 9 team, along with a couple of other guys, Sonny Ennis and Jeff King. With Cory McCarthy from Holy Rosary, the elementary school in Freshwater, and Paul Carroll (who was in Grade 9 at Laval) we made up the 'Grade 8 line' on the Grade 9 team. 'Bro,' as we called him," said Benoite, "coached us to the midget provincials that year, beating Beaconsfield in the final ... after losing to them by 20 earlier in the year.

"That was my first year with Martin. He coached the girls' team in high school and they were very dominant. Dave Constantine was the boys' coach and Martin often helped out at our practices. I feel I owe them both a lot of credit in terms of my development as a player and they were always challenging us to improve all facets of our life," Benoite said.

Benoite said Cull has been a big supporter of his throughout his university and professional career.

"As well, I've helped him with many of the high school teams he has coached over the years, most recently at Gonzaga, participating in their practices and running drills for them. It has been a very good relationship and he doesn't mind telling me what I have to do as well.

"He is there for me and is a great sounding board as I develop my own coaching philosophies. We don't always agree, but I think that speaks well for our ability to work together."

As far as his future with the Sea-Hawks is concerned, Cull is non-committal.

"It's a one-year thing and I'll see what happens after this year. I know I still want to be involved with basketball," Cull said. "I just don't want to be killing myself.

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."

- John Wooden

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: UCLA, Sea-Hawks, Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association Hall School Brother Rice High School Celtics Christian Brothers Indiana University Martin's Laval High School

Geographic location: St. John's, Placentia, Brooklyn Newfoundland St. Anthony Corner Brook British Columbia Freshwater

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