Although we don’t hear about them as much as we should, Montreal basketball stars are on the rise.
Lately, I had the opportunity to chat with Montreal native shooting guard and forward Hichem Benayad-Cherif. His recent selection to play in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) for the Kitchener-Waterloo Titans was a head turner for many. This is just one of the multiple achievements that Montreal native Hichem Benayad-Cherif has earned through his hard work and perseverance, two of the main key words for success that we hear about often in life and in basketball. I wanted to know what these key words meant for him now that he has achieved a lot in basketball.
“Perseverance is an important value that I have learned through basketball, it taught me how to be determined, the more you do, the more you will get closer to your dreams and the more they will come to life, says Benayad- Cherif.
We are often told that if you learn how to be ‘disciplined’ or ‘perseverant’ then you will achieve success and I found it interesting that he learned these principles through the sport and not off court like most people do.
Benayad’s success in basketball brought him to great places. Before he got approached by his agent from New York who offered him the opportunity of becoming a potential addition to the NBLC (A six years old league that is currently on the rise).The rising star was playing professional basketball in Algeria, his homeland. It was his first professional basketball experience.
‘When I was contacted by my agent about an opportunity to play for Algeria, it was truly a moment to treasure, playing for Algeria means a lot to me. Plus, the opportunity to be paid for the first time doing what I love was like a dream come true,” he said.
We all know the game of basketball but each continent and country have their own style and techniques of play so I asked him about the differences between playing overseas and how was it compared to the style of play he grew up with here in North America. Also, asked if professional basketball changed anything in regards of his basketball routine or style of play.
‘The environment is very different, the tempo is extremely swift, the focus goes all towards fast break offense. In the US or Canada, the focus is mostly shifted towards half court and the 24 second rule. However, professionally, I noticed that we run less and that the players really concentrate on the play rather then the cardio,’ said Benayad-Cherif
Professional basketball organizations fathom that players are disciplined enough to be in shape and know what to do. So they let you play and expect the best out of you, he explains, the crowd can be stressful at times but this is all part of the game.
Hichem Benayad-Cherif ended up playing in Algeria for two consecutive seasons.
I wanted him to talk to me a little bit about his early basketball career path and how it all started.
‘I was a little kid from Saint-Leonard. At the age of 8, my older brother brought me to the park and started teaching me how to play. I then fell in love with the orange ball. I started playing in elementary school then in high school, I played post guard for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in St-Leonard, Montreal.’
In the meantime, Hichem joined Sun Youth and Brookwood Elite.His team underwent more than ten tournaments in Canada and the US. He received an immense support from his coaches who saw the vivid potential he had and decided to invest in him.
During high school, Benayad-Cherif was approached by the coach of the basketball team of Montmorency College to play for them. He then got scouted by Indiana University on a full scholarship to play Division I basketball as a forward. After several awards and two successful years playing Division I Basketball with the Mastodons of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW). Hichem decided to join Armstrong State University Pirates basketball team in Georgia. During his NCAA career, he was part of The Summit League Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence in 2012 at IPFW, he won the Armstrong Athletics GPA awards later at Armstrong State University and The Award of Academic Merit in 2014. Hichem Benayad-Cherif proved that it’s possible to be successful both academically and on court as a student-athlete.
The switch of teams led me to ask him about his relationships with his coaches and what do players usually expect from them and vice versa. ‘A coach is like that authority in your life for as long as you’re part of the team, he’s like your parent away from home. In order for the player to perform really well, feel confident and fit within the team, the coach, he has to listen to the player, know what he’s good at, what he needs to work on but also know as much as he can about that individual,’ said Benayad-Cherif.
‘You might be struggling to fit into the team, it’s the coach’s duty to sit with you and talk to you about everything. He has to make his expectations loud and clear but also know exactly how you feel and help you get to where you want to be.’
We talked professional basketball, college basketball and his early life. Because I always have this reflex of comparing the game to real life, I was curious to know what life lesson did Basketball teach Benayad-Cherif, an important life lesson that he still applies to his daily life.
‘I’ve learned a lot through basketball and I wouldn’t even imagine my life without it but amongst all the life lessons I learned, the one thing that helped me most till this day would be punctuality’, he says laughing.
To wrap it up and speaking of rising stars, I asked Benayad-Cherif about his vision and how far he sees Canada Basketball go now that he reached a professional level.
‘Canada Basketball is growing extremely fast, I think this is something we all have noticed, there is so much potential in our players. We still need to have more exposure and a few changes to get to the same level as the US, it’s going to take some time but we will get there.’