David Benoit, right, and Bryson MacDonald helped Nova Scotia win silver at the U17 boys national basketball championship in Toronto. They narrowly lost to Ontario in the final on Saturday. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS
With 500 fans screaming and stomping their feet so hard that the vibrations could be felt throughout the gym, Nova Scotia's U17 team battled Ontario in the final game of the national championship in Toronto.
"It was just buzzing," said David Benoit who, along with Bryson MacDonald, was representing Pictou County on the Bluenose team. "It was the craziest most exhilarating feeling, especially since we stayed with Ontario the entire time."
"Everybody that wasn't from Ontario was cheering for us," said MacDonald. "Even teams that we had beaten were on our side."
The game was a bittersweet end to a dream week as the boys lost 82-68 to the powerhouse Ontario team. They had won silver but lost gold – a disappointment that at the time diminished their joy. But looking back, the North Nova students know they have much to be proud of.
"We were the only team that didn't get blown out by 30 or 40 points to Ontario," says MacDonald. "We were within four points at one time."
Along the way to the championship they had defeated four other teams including the top-ranked team from Quebec.
"The whole run we had there was just incredible," said Benoit. "I mean little ol' Nova Scotia – not that we haven't had streaks that went well in the past, but to make it that far as such a small province is just incredible."
Benoit personally got a lot of playing time and scored an average of 10.4 points and scored 15 points while picking up seven rebounds in their 80-75 win over Quebec.
"They were the No. 1 seed in the tournament when we played them as the No. 6 seed," he said. "It was an incredible game. Personally having a major contribution felt extremely good."
MacDonald said he did not get a great deal of playing time, but said it was an incredible experience nonetheless.
"It wasn't really about the playing time for me, it was about just being there and the practices, playing with a higher calibre team and seeing the higher level of play," he said. "I've learned a lot just from watching. I've learned more patience. It's just made me a better player."
Every game was fast-paced and top quality.
"No team is bad. Everybody is the best player from where they are," he said.
This is the second time in three years that Nova Scotia has won silver at nationals, but medals aren't the norm. The last time prior to these recent wins was a gold medal the province won back in 1987 at the Canada Games. Even with a strong team this year, they were counted as underdogs going in.
"The majority of the players at that tournament were bigger than us," said Benoit. "We tend to be very short quick, grimy, scrappy team. That's just how Nova Scotia tends to play whereas other teams have a height advantage on us, so we have to make up for it."
He's happy to say that they did and turned a few heads along the way. All the players were under the close watch of scouts from prep schools and universities during the tournament.
"I know of one lady, she was there talking to a lot of the players about playing prep school in the States this year coming," said MacDonald. "I talked to her myself."
While there are lots of great opportunities elsewhere, he said he is looking forward to coming back to play for the Gryphons next year.
"Watch out for North Nova next year," he warns.
Both players hope to contribute what they learned from being part of the provincial team to their high school and to impart some knowledge onto youth in the area. That started yesterday when they were helping with a basketball camp at North Nova for aspiring basketball players.
MacDonald offers this advice to them.
"Keep working hard. It's about getting into the gym every day. I know people get tired of hearing that, but that's what it is. You have to put in the work to get to that level. You can't just get there."
If they put in the effort, who knows where it could take them.
"For anyone who's little, just wanting to dream, you just have to work hard," said Benoit. "If you would have told me five years ago that I would be so close to being a national champion I would have thought you were crazy, but it's all in the hard work. It's as simple as that."