Senior boys lose with class

The question was directed to Paul Noonan, who leaned against a support beam at Beaver Brae High School in Kenora last Thursday shortly after watching his Muskie senior boys’ basketball team lose 70-59 in the NorWOSSA semi-final to the host Broncos and could not conceal the truth.
After a season where one goes 0-9 in NorWOSSA, what kind of feelings are you departing with?
“Well, I’d be kidding you if I said that I’m not disappointed with the season,” the head coach said with a half-hearted smile.
But judging a team’s success is not just about looking at its record. A better way is to see how they handle themselves with defeat breathing down their necks.
Down by 20 points with 1:40 left in the game, Thomas Edwards was still diving for loose rebounds, pressing Kenora’s players at mid-court, and coming up with three steals in 20 seconds.
There was Anwar Cheblaoui who, when taken out of the game by Noonan with two minutes left to give other players some playing time, did not retort against his coach in the slightest manner.
There were the players on the bench, though stricken with feelings of defeat lingering in their palpitating veins, still shouted words of encouragement and support from their strained vocal chords, rather than blurting out sentences filled with abrasive language.
“You can’t ask any more from a team than to play with their heart,” said Noonan. “They never gave up even though they were down 15 points, and played like they were playing like it was a one-point game.
“They never gave up and fought hard,” he stressed.
The game itself was hard to watch at some points. The first quarter, for instance, featured eight minutes of distraught play from the Muskies while Kenora was scintillating en route to a 23-11 lead.
“We couldn’t hit a shot in the beginning and they couldn’t miss one,” said Muskie forward Scott Galusha.
And things only got worse as the Broncos continued their technically-superior play over the Muskies, building up a 40-22 cushion.
This from a team the black-and-gold had lost to by just five points two days earlier—and with two of their better players in Mark Buist and Cheblaoui resting on the bench in street clothes.
Even though the Muskies started playing fundamentally better in the second half, as evidenced by the 53-41 score after the third quarter, it was, in the words of Galusha, “too little, too late.”
“We had a time-out late in the game and Paul [Noonan] just said to play like it’s a two-point game and just go out there and give her and everything finally started to drop, but it was just too late,” he repeated.
Cheblaoui led the Muskies with 16 points while Fraser Gibson and Craig McTavish each added seven against Kenora, who went on to earn NorWOSSA gold—and an NWOSSAA berth—by beating Dryden in the hotly-contested final.
Since the game potentially would be the last time some players would wear the Muskie colours, they entered with that “do or die mentality” tucked away in their heads.
So when the final horn blasted, it not only sounded the end of the season but also the end for some of their Muskie memories.
“This was my last basketball game ever, so I’m really disappointed right now,” said Buist. “We were pumped. I mean we wanted that game so badly, but it just never happened.”
Also graduating from the Muskie program are Logan Donaldson, McTavish, Gibson, Galusha, Edwards, and Cheblaoui.
And no one was as emotional as Cheblaoui, who, with a minute left in the game, showed a body language suited for a person who just had their heart broken for the first time—sweatshirt over his head, shoulders dropped, hands placed over his face, and an eerily silent expression on his face.
“I was just thinking of how bad a season we had and how disappointing it was,” he replied when asked what was going through his mind.
“It just seemed that in any game we play, we were always trying to come out of a hole every game,” added Cheblaoui, who will be trying out for the University of Ottawa’s basketball team this fall.
He said his stint as a Muskie will prove valuable if he makes the university squad.
“I’ve learned the ups and downs,” Cheblaoui remarked. “Last year I learned how it was to be winner and this year I learned how it was to be a loser.
“It doesn’t get any worse than this, so in the future, I can at least be ready for it,” he reasoned.
“It would be nice if we had a little more to show from our season, but it just one of those years,” added Noonan.
But even in defeat, the Muskies were able to show a characteristic that can sometimes be lost in winners—class.