Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Fish in his Element

This story never made it to print with the Toronto Observer as far as I know. We were to have a year-end published section with two of our best stories and I held this profile of Carleton's Kevin Churchill to appear in print, but then graduated from school and never found out what happened to the story. Then I ran into Kev at the OUA Finals and he mentioned he'd never seen it. A full CIS season later and Churchill and Carleton are again national champs, with Churchill scoring another Ken Shields award along the way. My somewhat-forgotten blog may not be the perfect format for it, but the words tell the story. Enjoy!

Originally written October 18, 2012.

After the handshakes for rivals and teammates, and the hugs for friends and family, Kevin Churchill stands at centre court in the Ravens Nest looking around at his home away from home.

For the past four years the Toronto-native has immersed himself in the Carleton Ravens basketball life, and despite all the wins and the championships, it hasn’t been easy.

On this night he apologizes for the lackluster effort and talks about the many things the team still has to work on. Even though the Ravens just won 102-80 over Laval, Churchill seems disappointed.

“There was a stretch where we were getting out-rebounded, kind of out-hustled, and really that was not a great game for us,” Churchill explained. “We came out with a win, but a lot to work on from this game for sure.”

Nobody can sink every shot, but Churchill certainly comes the closest to perfection, as is evidenced by his league-leading 69 per cent shooting last year.

Expecting perfection has led the Carleton program to eight of the last 10 CIS national championships.

The Ravens endeavor to never be out-hustled, a trademark of the Dave Smart-led program now in its 14th season, always pushing the pace even if it means the bench keeps the team’s collective knee on the oppositions’ chest when they’re already up by 40.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I came here,” said Churchill. “That standard’s just so much higher than what I was used to. It’s great though, you can never get complacent, there’s always something to be getting better on and it challenges you to be a better player and a better person every single day.”

At 9.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.6 assists per, Churchill’s numbers don’t represent how much he can influence a game. In fact, none of the Ravens’ numbers matter in their team-first system except one – wins.

In the forward’s senior year of high school, Smart showed up to an Ottawa-area tournament Churchill’s North Toronto Norsemen were playing in, liked what he saw, and began recruiting him.

“It’s hard to say no to a coach who has won as much as Dave has,” said Churchill.

“Looking at my options I could go to Carleton and try to learn whatever they do, or I could go somewhere else and probably lose to Carleton.”

The choice was obvious, but it also meant moving cities, leaving Toronto for Ottawa. And though he’s still going to root for the Leafs rather than the Senators, he’s made a mark on Ottawa.

Churchill has become involved in the community, lending a hand with both the Ottawa-area Spirit Program and Camp Merrywood, helping children with special needs. The 22-year-old also volunteers in Toronto at Swish for the Cure to help raise money for Childhood Cancer Canada research.

With these contributions, and his Academic All-Canadian status in his philosophy major, Churchill earned the OUA East Ken Shields Award last season, given to the student-athlete who best demonstrates outstanding achievements in basketball, academics, and community involvement.

“He’s a great guy,” said teammate and 2012 CIS MVP Tyson Hinz. “He’ll do anything for you if you need him. He’s a great teammate and you couldn’t ask anything more of him.”

Churchill has also shown his dedication on the court. The forward worked himself from the last man on the bench to a starter and became an integral part of the Ravens’ rotation in his third year.

“He wasn’t looking to just play right away he wanted to learn and be good when he got to play, and he is,” said Smart.

“Kev’s obviously a leader on this team, but he can also really score. There’s still not a lot of guys in the country who can cover him one-on-one.”

Along the way, Churchill has learned much about basketball and himself, and would recommend the Carleton program to anybody who has the opportunity, even if they’re from Toronto.

“It’s amazing,” said Churchill. “You learn a lot about yourself. There’s never a day off, you’re going to be challenged every single day to get better and it’s not going to be easy some days but it’s just a matter of getting through that and there’s nothing really like it anywhere I’ve ever seen. I’d recommend it to everybody, to be honest, there’s nothing like it.”

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