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By HARVEY ROSEN

I finally cornered hoopster Keenan Benarroch, who will be celebrating his 21st birthday this month, after I was informed that he had recently been celebrating another life achievement by travelling to a basketball tryout in Toronto, in the hope that he might earn a spot on Canada’s Senior Men’s entry in the Pan-American Maccabi Games.


Held every four years, the upcoming 13th event of its kind will be taking place in Santiago, Chile from December 27, 2015 to January 4,  2016. Mission accomplished by the stellar basketballer, of course, but only in part as I shall elaborate later.
“The competition mainly consisted of Jewish university players from across Canada, including an Israeli who plays for Lakehead University in Thunder Bay,” explained my interviewee.
Keenan has been especially keen on the sport of basketball ever since seventh grade at Gray Academy, where he played all through high school on the Junior and highly rated Varsity Raiders team. The latter group led by Benarroch narrowly missed capturing the AAA high school title in 2011; he was  also honoured with the prestigious “Nathan Pollack Athletic Scholarship” for excellence in sport.
Keenan also enhanced his resumé by travelling to New York to participate in the 2009 JCC Maccabi Games and starred on the 15-16 years old boys’ squad, leading the attack by averaging close to 20 points per game.
Benarroch thought the N.Y. experience was extremely worthwhile from a developmental standpoint: “I felt that the tournament was almost a coming-out party for me. It was really good for my confidence. It was just an amazing experience and I got to meet a lot of (fellow) Jews. It was also fun playing with the Winnipeg guys that I play basketball with here,” he imparted.
Every player has his strengths and weaknesses and Keenan shared his: “ My strength is definitely that I can shoot the basketball. I consider myself a three-point-specialist and I play hard defensively . Shooting and spacing the floor is also important in my game.
“It will definitely be good to see (in Chile) what the other Jewish players around the world are like, too. It was also fun at the Toronto tryouts playing at the collegiate level with the Jewish boys (from other parts of Canada).”
The Israeli coach at the tryout was impressed with Keenan. “I want you to play at the games in Chile,” he said. “Playing on this team helped to identify you and you showed what you’re capable of for the Maccabiah Games in Israel too, in 2017.”
After playing two successful seasons in the MCAC (Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference ) with the University of Winnipeg at power forward, the 6’3” Keenan, who is listed as a guard and has played the power-forward position, earned league MVP honours in his second year. He then transferred to the University of Manitoba as a “redshirt” with the Bisons for the 2014-15 season.
The latter designation, according to Benarroch, was suggested by his U of M coach Kirby Schepp to afford Keenan the opportunity to work on his strength, speed, and game in general. “I’m on the Bisons’ roster, working out and training with the team. I’m essentially a practice-roster player - a player with potential. I sit on the team bench but don’t get to play in the games,” he explained.
Come the 2015-16 college basketball season Benarroch hopes to don a uniform and take to the court. “There’s a small possibility I could get cut, but most likely I’ll be on the team. It’s very competitive but I’m pretty optimistic I’ll catch on,” he remarked confidently.
Academically speaking, Keenan is presently working on his Bachelor of Arts degree and hopes to become a high school teacher,  eventually coaching basketball. He is presently majoring in geography and his minor is in physical education.
For the past two summers he has worked at Rady JCC Summer Camp as a counselor for children with special needs. This summer he will be working at the U of M mini-university summer camp.
Dad Michael was and still does play a very integral part in Keenan’s and eldest son Aden’s basketball development. “He coached me at Gray Academy Varsity level. If he hadn’t stepped up and volunteered, I don’t think there would have been anyone else to coach. He dedicated his time and he was pretty busy. He got us into tournaments, playing against some pretty good AAA teams that were ranked really high, and it really helped in our (team’s) development.”
Michael, who is presently dean and C.A. Manitoba Chair in Business Leadership at the I.H. Asper School of Business, is a grad of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate and was apparently a very good basketball player himself in his day.  As well,  for years he has been steeped in officiating basketball as well as coaching.
A grateful Keenan also wanted to offer accolades to three of his basketball coaches; specifically those whom he felt helped him most in his development along the way: “Coaches Martin Riley, Grant Richter, and U of M head coach Kirby Schepp all had a huge influence (on my game). They made a big impact,” he stated passionately.
Coach Schepp, in a press release he put out upon hearing that Benarroch was going to Santiago wrote: “Keenan’s commitment and work ethic this past year have been outstanding and it really paid off with this opportunity to represent Canada at the games in Chile.”
Now, let’s cut to the chase and talk finances - to which I alluded at the outset. It was pointed out to the aspiring participants that they would have to help shoulder much of the expenses involved in travelling to South America.
Keenan outlined the expectations that were explained to the athletes. “The players have been told that they are expected to fundraise in their local communities to cover part of their own costs. The cost for each player is approximately $7500 and this doesn’t include two trips to Toronto for practices closer to when the games will take place.
“It’s pretty much all on me. The U of M will pitch in a little bit, but other organizations haven’t really chipped in a lot.
So, if you’d like to help support the cause so that Benarroch might join past Jewish basketball standouts with the U of M Bisons - Hymie Fox, Zak Hirshman, Dan Becker, and Cliff Umans - who have in the past travelled to previous Maccabiah Games, why not drop a line to Keenan. “By Email would be best,” he shared: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The writer, a Jewish Winnipegger, is a former school teacher, and covers football and hockey for Canadian Press and Broadcast News.
Keep in touch with Sporting Touch. Send news about Jewish sports to Harvey Rosen, 360 Scotia Street, Winnipeg, Man., R2V 1W7, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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#1 I was there.marty g 2015-06-16 20:56
"was apparently a very good basketball player himself in his day" ??

I can vouch for it. Mike was outstanding as were his brothers.
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