It’s the first few days of camp and there’s 30 or more basketball players on the court. Memorial Sea-Hawks’ basketball coach Peter Benoite spots the returnees and recognizes some local kids just out of local high schools. Then there are those he’s never seen before.
Coaches face the same situation at the start of a new year, and the thing that’s consistent is — at this point — the team is undefeated.
Then, the work of separating the wheat from the chaff begins.
“First and foremost, we look for talent,” said Benoite, entering his third season at the helm of the Sea-Hawks men’s team.
“If guys can play the game, then it is much easier to get on the radar. That’s regardless of size, shape, conditioning, position etc. If you can play basketball, then you have a great starting point,” said Benoite.
“After that, we try to break it down. What can guys do offensively, what can they do defensively? This year we are going to have a much stronger defensive mindset, so guys are going to have to be able to guard. Obviously, if a guy is a great offensive talent, then we would find ways to work with that, but this year our defense has to improve significantly, and everyone will have to buy into that.
“Then,” Benoite added, “we try to look at different positions and who can play those positions.
“The guard spot became an issue for us last season and we’ve tried to address that. Once we’ve identified certain positions, we try to see who can play certain roles. We need a defensive stopper, and if someone can demonstrate that ability, there’s a good chance we’ll find a spot for them.”
After seeing who can fit into certain roles and certain positions, Benoite said the coaching staff looks at who is going to fit into the team’s overall system.
“We need to know who wants to play the style we want to play, which guys are team guys, and which guys do we think will cause us problems.
“I was at a conference this summer where (Purdue coach) Matt Painter spoke, and he said ‘You have to find out what you have early — the guys you have to fight with, they’re the guys that will get you beat later.’
“Often that takes time to figure out,” said Benoite. “That’s why we usually start with a bigger roster to begin with.
“We are trying to get to know everyone and give guys a chance to settle in and show us who they are. It also gives guys a chance to see if they really want to play, and if they can manage the workload, both basketball-wise and academically. It’s a big demand, and not for everybody, so you have to give guys a chance to decide if it’s truly for them.”
Once that’s done, Benoite said he looks at, “the bigger picture to see where we are roster-wise.”
The MUN coach said a good roster will always have a number of fourth- and fifth-year players, the majority being second and third years, and a few freshman.
“You need to maintain a good balance here for the longevity of the program or you risk falling into cycles and the program dropping off,” Benoite said. “Sometimes that can be a good thing, if you build towards a championship team. In reality, that’s what hurt us the last couple of years — not having enough experience. But I feel we are progressing to a good balance, and I think you’ll see that reflected in how the team plays this year and the results should follow.”
In terms of walk-ons, Benoite says that’s often a tough call because many of them are from outside the province.
“Generally,” said Benoite, “we have a pretty good feel for what we will have and who will be trying out. First and foremost, walk-ons can do themselves a favour by being in shape. If your not in shape, then your chances are pretty slim, because you will not be able to show yourself well in tryouts. “
Benoite said he is aware of most walk-ons as most of them would have been training with Memorial all summer.
“That gives them an edge over others, as I see their commitment level,” the MUN coach noted.
“Those that just show up for tryouts have to demonstrate something extra. And generally, they have to outplay someone that’s on the team, or someone else that’s vying for the same position.
“We often have a number of local kids who are playing really well, but it’s tough to find a spot for everybody.”
Benoite said cutting young players is the part of the job he doesn’t enjoy.
“Often,” he adds, “you have to cut good kids.
“But in the end, my job is to put the best team on the floor.”
There were 29 at the opening day of tryouts this season. That was a down a little from the past few years, mainly, says Benoite, “because people believe it’s a lot harder to crack the roster. Nonetheless, it was a good turnout and it was good to see people interested in the program.”
The Sea-Hawks’ roster has been cut to 17 players, including Steve Earles, who will be a medical red shirt at least for the first half of the season. Earles broke his fibula over the summer.
“We are going to identify some red shirts before the season starts, but we will not do that until after our Waterloo, Ont., trip later this month,” explained coach Peter Benoite.
“That will give us a good chance to see everybody, and make some decisions regarding who will benefit more by playing some this year and who will benefit more from just practicing and weight training. I would expect that we’ll name at least two red shirts, maybe one or two more depending on what we see.”
Benoite said Earles’ surgery went well, “but I’m not going to push it, and right now I’m expecting him to be out until January.”
In the meantime, Benoite said there’s a possibility German-born Ante Samodol will rejoin the team in the new year and he hopes he does. The six-foot-seven centre is ineligible to play this semester.
The roster, as it stands, includes Justin Alliman, Will Bradbury, Ryan Brockerville, Matt Cleary, Jordan Constantine, Ciaran Curran, Marcus Dolliver, Justin Grainger, Robbie Habib,Tyree Haley, Alex Harding, Michael Helsby, Jason Shepherd, Theo Stanoev, Ryan Wood, Mark Woodland and Earles.