Keenan BenarrochBy HARVEY ROSEN When I last spoke with hoopster Keenan Benarroch - back in early June, he was just approaching his 21st birthday. It was clear to me that he was a determined young man on a mission and I wrote a piece headlined: “This three-point shooting specialist could definitely use a shot in the arm.”

The former Gray Academy student had been keen on basketball ever since the seventh grade. Benarroch played his sport of choice all through high school both on the junior and highly rated  varsity Raiders teams.
But, because his senior basketball playing days appeared to be winding down following high school, Keenan had other ideas and sufficient confidence in himself to attempt to carry on at higher and more competitive levels.
It was last June that Benarroch shared with me that he had just travelled to a basketball tryout in Toronto, where he had hoped to earn a spot on Canada’s senior men’s entry in the Pan-American Maccabi Games, which are held every four years, this year in Santiago, Chile.
Well, as matters turned out, the winner of the prestigious “Nathan Pollack Athletic Scholarship” for excellence in sport at Gray Academy, impressed the Israeli-born head coach, Allon Bross, in Toronto. He liked the Winnipegger’s game, his size at 6’ 3”,  also the fact that he was versatile - playing both as a guard and a power forward. Not only that, the coach informed Keenan that now that he had made the Canadian team and would be playing in the Pan Am Games in Santiago, he might also be chosen to play in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017.
Since the South American event has already taken place,  from December 27, 2015 -  January 4, 2016, it was now time to contact Keenan. When I phoned the Benarroch household on the fifth of this month and spoke with mom Kim Bailey, she explained that her son would be back in Winnipeg from Toronto that very evening and that Keenan would get in touch.
Well, if you haven’t already heard, Canada defeated the United States in the final, in overtime, to capture the gold medal. And, of course, Keenan played an integral part in the outcome. In our conversation he could barely contain his excitement as he identified some of the other entries in the tournament: Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.
Like a nurse or doctor in the hospital asking a patient to quantify the degree of pain the patient is feeling, I inquired of Benarroch similarly when I wanted to know how much, on a scale of one-to-ten, he had enjoyed the total Pan-American Maccabi experience.
“I would describe it as a ten out of ten; just the most unbelievable experience of my life and for sure my basketball career. Everyone on the team were great guys. The coach was good; I got to play a lot, and we won the gold - which was our ultimate goal, and also to see South America,” stated Keenan .
Surely Keenan and his team must have been surprised that they defeated the mighty U.S. in the final, wouldn’t you think? I mean it was the first Maccabi Canada Open Men’s basketball team to beat the Americans .
“I don’t know if it was an upset, because we had already beat them in the preliminary round, “ he said.
“When we got there we lost to Argentina by three points in the first game. When we played the U.S. the next day, we basically said ‘OK, if we don’t win the next game against the U.S., we have no chance of making gold’.
“In the first game vs. the U.S., we were down eight points with about five minutes left and won by seven. The second game (for the gold) was just the craziest comeback. We were down nine with just 40 seconds left and we managed to tie it, sending the game into overtime - and finally won the game by a score of 95-85.”
Ave Bross, the head coach’s 22-year old son, who played four years as a point guard at McGill, was instrumental in the victory, hitting on three three-pointers to tie the game. In total Ave scored 33 points in the all-important final.
How did the tournament work out for Benarroch? “I averaged 18 points per game. Other than the final game I hit three three- pointers. That’s a huge part of my game”, he explained.
“Before I went on the trip, I didn’t know what to expect. The quality of the competition of the tournament was pretty good. I think I competed pretty well. Whatever the team needed from me I, stayed within my role. I proved (to myself) that I was one of the better players and we were (in the end) the best team.”
Keenan also described what it was like playing against fellow Jews and how they reacted to each other in competition. “On the court it was as competitive as any other basketball game I’ve ever played in. It was really cool to play against Jewish basketball players from other countries. The big part of the tournament was to meet other Jews and it was a nice experience. On the court, when you would bump into an opponent ,  you would talk to them (about it) and it was a nice friendly environment. Off the court it was all positive,” Benarroch said.
“I think the competition in Israel in 2017 will be stiffer,” Keenan said candidly.
“The American team will definitely be better because some of the guys that couldn’t play in South America will be there. Israel will, too.”
Keenan made a point of keeping in touch with family. “After every game I would call my parents and update them. They (Michael and Kim) were really proud of me.
“Playing in South America should absolutely increase my chances of making it to Israel. The tournament made me even more interested in going to the Maccabiah Games. Especially if it’s the same coach, I should have a very good chance of making the team,” he suggested.
Now back home and working on his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Manitoba. Keenan, after being redshirted last year by the U of B Bisons, is now “dressing for every single game”, and playing regularly with the team. Both he and his college coaches are in strong agreement that his participating in Santiago has provided him with invaluable experience that will surely strengthen his game.
Carry on Keenan!
The writer, a Jewish Winnipegger, is a former school teacher, and covers football and hockey for Canadian Press and Broadcast News.