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Be it professional sports or the CIS, Donnovan Bennett knows the score

Talking to big-time sports superstars is his job but Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett is more than the man behind the microphone after the big game. The former Western Mustang is also one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) athletics.

After a brief meeting at this year’s Panda Bowl, Bennett and I sat down and talked CIS rivalries, rising stars and what it really means to be a sports fan.

Is the rivalry between the U of O and Carleton on the basketball court the best rivalry in all of the CIS?    

Basketball, there is no question. I would not say in all of CIS sports. If you look at women’s soccer, Queens and U of O have a good rivalry. You look at football, the Calgary and Saskatchewan rivalry mirrors the one in the CFL. The Laval/Montreal rivalry for many people is bigger than just the schools. In Quebec its Anglophone versus francophone. I think certainly think in basketball it is because both programs are at such a high level. I struggle to say there is a rivalry because Carleton has been so dominant. I will say U of O is underappreciated because they are in Carleton’s shadow because they share the same city.

The OUA is the strongest conference in the CIS right?

I’d say so. They are always going to be near the top. You’re always going to have Carleton, you’re always going to have U of O, but when you look at the depth of the OUA, Windsor is a good program; Ryerson, McMaster is consistently decent, Laurier is up and down but they have some of the best players in the country. I think the depth of the OUA is what sets it apart. For me last year you could make the argument that the OUA had the four best teams in the country. If Windsor is healthy and you throw them in that final eight tournament I think they can do very well. If we had a committee to decide the eight best teams in the tournament it would not be out of the realm of possibility that you could have five maybe six out of Ontario.

Is the talk of the golden days of Canadian basketball always applicable to the CIS?

No question. Certainly I think the level of CIS is improving and I think it’s due to the coaching.. All that hard work is not only to get kids to go up and play in the NCAA it’s also to get them play at that high level in the CIS.

Am I crazy to think that we could see a CIS player drafted in the NBA in the next decade or so?

Crazy? No, I don’t think it’s out the realm of possibility. If you look at Corey Joseph (of the San Antonio Spurs) [he’s]working with one of the best coaches walking the earth right now in Gregg Poppovich. If you look at them going one on one in the developmental training camp you couldn’t really notice a difference to the naked eye. If you are an NBA executive, if you are going to spend a draft pick on a guy, you have to know that person is going to contribute right away. It is a tough gauge because the size and angle of the shots you take is so different from the CIS to the NCAA, but from a talent level perspective, certainly you are going to see CIS players with the talent to play in the NBA, it’s just a matter of whether they get that opportunity.

Who is the biggest name you ever interviewed?

That’s a tough one. I interviewed Donovan Bailey, who’s an Olympic gold medalist, and you know they don’t just hand those out. He’s a multiple gold medalist and he set a world record at the time. That was special.

I’ve been able to interview Pinball Clemons a couple times. He was not an Olympic medalist but he was the first African-American head coach to win a championship in all of North America. Beyond all his accolades, he’s a great guy to talk and listen to. Each time you leave with more information that he articulates in such an entertaining way. Whether the light on the camera is on or not, I spend time around that man whenever I can.

I also got to interview Charles Barkley, Jonothan Ogden, Cito Gaston. I have been truly blessed, if I don’t interview another person in my career I can rest my laurels saying I got to interview trendsetters and history makers.

What is your favourite sports team?

I know in sports you are supposed to be impartial and unbiased, but at the heart of things you are still a fan.

In the NFL, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. It was good early in my lifetime (in the ’90s) when I thought it was going to be like this forever. I grew up in a family of Cowboy fans.

In the NBA, it’s a different animal—you really cheer for players more so than teams. I really like Lebron (James) and (Dwyane)Wade and I interviewed Chris Bosh; he was great to me even though most of our country hates him. I cheer for those guys because I feel the hatred was a little bit much. I cheer for the hometown team, the Raptors, but I actively want them to get a high draft pick or Andrew Wiggins hoping it brings better days in the future.

My baseball team is the Jays—big team for me getting into sports as a youngster.

As for hockey, other than Team Canada, maybe I am a bit of a hater but I often cheer for the Leafs to lose because if the Leafs do well, every other sports story is going to be buried. It’s not that I dislike the Leafs—I’m really rooting for every other sport to get some coverage.