In the span of six years, Kevin Gemmell has gone from leading the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team on the court to leading them off of it.
The freshman coach started his NorWOSSA career on a positive note with a commanding 64-28 win over the Dryden Eagles last Monday (Dec. 14).
They followed that with a 64-50 victory over the Kenora Broncos here the next day.
Then on Friday, Fort High improved to 3-0 after trouncing the International Falls Broncos 63-35.
With this being Gemmell’s first foray into coaching, he considers himself an unknown commodity on the bench—and that’s the same way he’s treating his team.
“I’m excited to see what we have, and I think a lot of players have yet to show me what they do have, so I’ll get to see it a little more in the next week,” Gemmell said after his team finished with a 1-2 record in their home tournament.
“I’m not too sure what I have, either,” he admitted. “Cody Brown showed me a lot in the games. He played sparingly, but he had a couple big rebounds in the Baudette game and he played really good defence.
“I didn’t think he had that much in him, but he really brought his play up,” Gemmell added.
Gemmell noted he’s been back in Fort Frances since July, and was suiting up with his charges before offering to coach them.
“I was playing pick-up ball with a lot of them, and they were putting me to shame kinda deal,” he explained.
“And they were scoring on me and I thought there’s a lot of talent here. It’d be fun to coach,” added Gemmell.
He takes over from Paul Noonan, who was the senior boys’ coach for 13 years and Muskie junior boys’ coach for another two. Gemmell said Noonan’s guidance helped his decision to step into his former coach’s shoes.
“I think a lot of it comes from the guys who coached me, Paul Noonan and Mike Busch, giving so much to a lot of kids over the years they’ve been involved,” he remarked.
“So I thought maybe I should give something back, as well.”
In their weekend tournament, the Muskies opened with a 48-39 win over Baudette before falling 52-41 to eventual-champion Westgate and then 54-37 to Churchill.
Gemmell attributed both losses to early-season jitters that will be cleared up as the season goes on.
“We had 26 turnovers in the Westgate game, and then the next game [against Sir Winston Churchill], we had 34,” he noted.
“I think we’ve got to start taking care of the ball a little better,” Gemmell stressed. “We’ve got to work on that first before we can work on some of the other things.
“It’s three games into the season so I’m not too worried about it,” he added. “They’ll cure themselves.
“I remember playing basketball, too, and early in the season, you had more turnovers than late in a season.
“I’ll be more concerned if it’s February and we’re turning the ball over 20 times.”
During the tournament here, Gemmell used some tough love to nip the “yips” in the bud. And while the strategy didn’t work entirely, the team grew through it.
“I think maybe it was just due to some nervousness, like first-time players,” he noted. “I said, ‘If you turn over the ball, you’re coming off.’
“Everyone took their turns on, and it was disappointing, but it was a good learning experience. I think we learned a lot.”
Still, winning and losing comes back to possession, and early in the season that will be the major focus of improvement.
“Defensively, we played well. Offensively, we just have to share the ball a little more and get a little more movement,” reasoned Gemmell, who noted Justin Anderson and Josh Strain also caught his eye in the tournament.
“It’s hard to score points when you don’t have the ball, though, when you turn it over all the time.
“In my mind, we’re such an athletic team that if we don’t turn over the ball, if we turn over the ball less than them, then we’re going to win,” he added. “They play with hustle and they want to win.”
Last year’s Muskie squad went undefeated in NorWOSSA play but then fell to the Westgate Tigers in the best-of-three NWOSSAA final with a berth to the all-Ontarios at stake.