Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mukendi named CIS Rookie-of-the-Year

Badgers Mukendi named CIS Rookie-of-the-Year

By Bernie Puchalski - St. Catharines Standard

There have been plenty of great basketball players who have worn the uniform of the Brock men’s basketball team.

Dave Picton, Kevin Steinstra and Brad Rootes are three names that come to mind immediately, but not one of that talented trio managed to achieve what Didi Mukendi did in his first year at Brock.

Thursday night in Ottawa, the Denis Morris High School alumnus became the first player from the school to be named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport rookie of the year.

“For Didi to be the first kid to be rookie of the year, that’s a helluva tribute to him and a helluva tribute to our program,” Badgers head coach Ken Murray said. “I think it weighed on the coaches that we’ve developed some pretty good players over the years.”

The 19-year-old St. Catharines resident found out the news when he received text messages in the Brock team room last week from Ken Murray and former Brock player Scott Murray.

“If I had only got the one text message from coach, I wouldn’t have believed it,” the muscular six-footer said.

The first-year kineisiolgy student found it fitting he heard the news in the presence of several of his teammates.

“I couldn’t have done it without them playing as well as they did and putting in the effort.”

Mukendi is excited and honoured to receive the award.

“Coach would probably have won it, but I don’t think they had the award when he played. I’m the first, so it’s a great honour.”

It’s a well deserved honour, Ken Murray said.

I told him he has a reputation to live up to now. We expect bigger and better things out of him next year.”

The award for Mukendi is somewhat surprising in that individual awards are often the result of team success. The shooting guard had to overcome the fact that Brock failed to make the playoffs.

“When you’re playing with an average basketball team as far as won/loss record goes, for him to achieve this status is a real tribute to him as a basketball player,” Murray said. “They obviously thought very highly of him.”

He expects Mukendi to become Brock’s next All-Canadian.

“The big thing for him next year is that he won’t sneak up on anybody.

“Everybody will know who he is, but the way he works and his attitude, I fully expect him to have an even better year next year.

“Mind you, we’re going to put a little better supporting cast around him, too. I think that will help showcase his skills even more.”

The Brock coaching staff felt Mukendi was ready to play for Brock in last season’s national championship run, but Mukendi was glad he waited the extra year.

“That one year I really matured,” he said. “All the players from last year’s championship team always say I could have been on that team and rub it in, but I’m glad I stayed back.”

“I wasn’t ready to go to university after my 12th year.”

Mukendi felt he needed to mature as both a person and a basketball player.

“My game matured and I matured,” said Mukendi, who came to Canada when he was 10 and started playing basketball at St. Anthony’s Elementary School two years later.

His game certainly matured. Playing 31.9 minutes a game for Brock, the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, averaged 16.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, while contributing 43 steals and 63 assists.

“When I was coming in, I knew I was going to be a starter. I knew I was going to have to step in right away and contribute, so I worked hard all summer and it showed.”

Mukendi’s numbers might have been even better if not for a nagging hernia problem that will require surgery this off-season. He never used it as an excuse, but fans could tell he wasn’t the same player at season’s end.

Missing the playoffs will provide motivation for everyone on the Brock roster and the team is going to start working hard in May.

“We all wanted to be in the playoffs so it’s a huge motivator,” Mukendi said. “The last game is going to be in our heads for the rest of the summer.”

Personally, Mukendi’s last two games will bother him until next season starts.

“I shot 2-for-22 or something like that in the last two games and that will stick with me all summer.”

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