Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak’s praise for the program has led others from Montreal to join the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Bobcat Peterson Suffrard believes coming to Brandon gave him the best chance to earn his degree. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The Brandon University Bobcats are having a small impact on reversing Canada’s brain drain.
For years, people have left the Prairies for bigger communities in Alberta, Ontario or Quebec, but that’s not the case with the men’s basketball team. This year’s squad features four players — almost one-third of the roster — from Montreal.
While it’s not uncommon to see the occasional player from La Belle Ville — like Mario Joseph or Yul Michel — in blue and gold, BU head coach Gil Cheung believes having four is a result of the program’s history and success.
"We’ve made some contacts there and with some coaches out there and some alumni as well," said Cheung. "They’ve done a great job of helping us identify student-athletes and they’ve had a great experience here, so it’s an easy sell for them. A lot of times we find athletes from there. They really want to come here to leave that area to get an education and play at a high level of basketball. It’s an ideal fit right now."
Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak and Pacome Matulu, the Montreal players from last season, also factored into this year’s team, especially Benabdelhak.
Last year, the 6-foot-6, 190-pound forward came to Brandon and led the team with 8.1 rebounds per game and 271 total points. He returned home in the summer and was bombarded with questions about what his experience was like. His answer about how much he loved Brandon helped lead to 6-foot-7 forward Peterson Suffrard and 6-foot-4 guard Jude Molin joining this year’s team.
"When my first season was done, I shared the video on Facebook," Benabdelhak said. "Some people asked if I can help them get into Brandon so I talked to the coach and presented my friends from Montreal and now they’re here."
Adjusting to life on the Prairies is never easy for players coming from Quebec. They have to change from primarily speaking French to English, find new accommodations and adjust to the daily life as a student while playing basketball at the CIS level.
However, it’s an opportunity to make those changes in their lives that brings so many Montreal players to Brandon. In Quebec, students must attend CEGEP — a junior college program — before they will be admitted to a university. That is not necessary to come to BU, which is part of what attracted Suffrard.
"It’s to earn a diploma and to study," said Suffrard, who left a three-year-old son in Montreal to come study physical education and business. "When I was in Montreal, I couldn’t study. They have a lot of distractions and I can’t play ball at university. The coach told me I could if I want to come to Brandon, and I thought it was a good opportunity to play and to get my diploma."
Benabdelhak and Matulu have helped the new Montrealers adjust to life in Brandon, and Cheung likes what he’s seeing from all four of those players.
Benabdelhak also likes having a strong Montreal contingent with the Bobcats, as it’s making him feel a little bit more at home. He also knows that having his friends here will help them in their futures as well.
"I feel like I’m home and it’s good to have some guys from Montreal and to have a chance to come to Brandon and have a good experience here," he said.
The Bobcats will be back on the hardcourt today and tomorrow when they visit the Jamestown Jimmies at Jamestown, N.D.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 12, 2012