Peter Benoite knows theres still a lot of basketball left in his 32-year-old body, and hell get the chance to prove it this fall as a member of the Halifax Rainmen, an expansion team in the American Basketball Association.
The Rainmen announced Tuesday that Benoite is one of two players the club has signed to one-year contracts, the first player signings in team history. The native of Little Barachoix, who starred for the Memorial University Sea-Hawks from 1993-98, said the fact his name will be forever linked with the team is not something hes taking likely.
Thats pretty exciting, Benoite said. Its an honour to be able to say that.
Benoite is one of the greatest players in the history of mens basketball at MUN. His best season was in 1997, when he averaged 21 points a game and was named Atlantic conference MVP and an AUS first-team all-star. He would later play a few seasons of semi-pro ball in Germany before accepting a job with the provincial government in St. Johns two years ago and settling into an assistant coaching position with the mens basketball team at Memorial.
He played in for Nova Physio in the St. Johns division one senior mens league and practised with the MUN team several times a week, keeping his skills sharp in case another opportunity arose.
Had been mulling over a return to Europe
I still had an itch to play, Benoite said. I considered going back overseas before and I was probably going to go over this year with some young guys from MUN (Evan Constantine and Justin Halleran).
The fact Halifax is a whole lot closer to home than European leagues played a role in Benoites decision, and was a sign he should definitely give pro ball one more chance.
It was too good an opportunity to turn down, Benoite said. Its an elite level of basketball and its only an hour and a half plane ride away from home ... thats better than playing across the pond. My family and friends can even get a look at what Im doing. I couldnt let this slide by.
Benoite admits he doesnt know a whole lot about the ABA, but then again, not many people do.
Its a minor pro league a couple of steps below the NBA, a circuit known for teams quickly appearing and then disappearing before theyve completed a single regular season. It isnt difficult to get a franchise, so the league usually starts the season with between 50 and 60 teams. According to the ABA website, 55 teams are scheduled to begin play this fall, with clubs playing out of several American and Canadian cities, and even as far away as Mexico. However, teams schedules only involving opponents located near, or relatively near, to them geographically.
But despite the uncertainty that surrounds some clubs, there is no doubting the talent level in the ABA. Most of the players come from NCAA Division I and II programs, players looking to further develop their skills in hopes of catching the attention of NBA scouts. For the Rainmens part, team management is working toward securing a deal with the Toronto Raptors that could see Halifax become a farm team for the NBA club.
According to Benoite, the ABA is likely on par with other development leagues such as the National Basketball Development League and the Continental Basketball Association.
Its hard to say for sure, but based on the camp in Halifax, there are a lot of tremendous athletes in this league. The skill level will be really high, he said. A lot of these guys want to use (the ABA) as a development league to move to the next level.
At 32, Benoite has no aspirations of moving on to the NBA, but he might be able to mentor a few guys young enough to take a serious run at the top basketball league on the planet.
My role will be the sixth man off the bench and to provide leadership to the young guys, Benoite said.
For Benoite, just stepping onto the court with a true professional basketball team is going to be the best aspect of playing with the Rainmen, even if he never plays at a higher level than the ABA.
I played overseas, but it was never fully professional, it was more semi-pro where not everybody on the team was getting paid. (In the ABA), youre dealing with hard-core athletes and some NBA-type talent, he said. My intention is to play another year and see what happens. It depends on how my body holds up, but if it leads to another opportunity, Ill take advantage of it.
Another aspect of the Rainmen that has Benoite excited is the buzz the team is creating in Halifax. The ABA held its all-star weekend in the Nova Scotia capital over the winter and fans flocked to the Metro Centre to watch the skills competition and all-star game.
Its a great basketball community with a lot of support for the game, said Benoite. Especially since they lost the CIS (mens) national championship, people are going to be hungry for elite basketball.
Benoite will give up his job with the Newfoundland and Labrador statistics agency to play for the Rainmen, a decision he said was tough to make. As for how hell do financially, Benoite indicated the money is enough to keep most players in the league happy.
Its not NBA money, so nobodys going to make a fortune, said Benoite. But its enough (money) to make you want to do it.
The Rainmen open training camp in Halifax in mid-September and play their home opener Nov. 15.