Kevin Churchill didn’t see the court as a redshirt for Carleton Ravens. It is that year in Ottawa he cherishes most as a basketball player.
The North Toronto Collegiate alumnus, now winding up his last year of eligibility, has had a decorated university basketball career in which he was on four CIS teams and five OUA clubs that won championships prior to this year.
This month the Ravens won a 10th CIS basketball title, their fourth in a row, with a 79-67 win over Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Churchill was recruited by coach Dave Smart while in Grade 12 at North Toronto, but the 6-foot-7 Norseman star had to find his role on the Ravens. This season he has been a key part of Carleton’s rotation, coming on as a first substitution for starter Tyson Hinz, and averaging 21 minutes a game. That is a far cry from averaging zero and 0.9 minutes respectively in his first two seasons.
After two seasons riding the bench, Churchill had to compete for a rotation spot. It was during those times, he says, he learned most about himself.
“No one wants to be a redshirt,” he said recently from the Carleton campus. “You come out of high school at the top of your game and you come here and you’re not good enough to play the game.
“In the second half of the season I ended up being a contributor in practice to what we were doing. I ended up helping the team and having a part of the second half. To me, that means as much as the other ones, to be honest.”
He identifies himself as a person who is mentally tough, able to hold his ground on the basketball court. That first season woke him up to the reality of his future, reshaping an ego that his high school coach, Lorne Smith, described as being so large it couldn’t fit through the gym door sometimes.
“He knew he had talent,” remembers the now-retired Smith. “In many ways he exuded this confidence.”
It was that confidence that kept the Norsemen competitive against some of the tougher hoops squads in Toronto. Smith recalls Churchill coming into his own as a player, and being an essential component of the Norsemen’s success.
“I thought, if only we had five-year kids, we’d be fantastic,” Smith joked. “It was a really good team, but we didn’t have a bench, so the starting five rarely came off.”
Churchill wanted to keep learning, and when he got the offer to attend Carleton he considered it a no-brainer. He said he
wanted to learn from “the best” — and even declined an offer from crosstown rival University of Ottawa.
But he was physically unprepared for the schedule and the intensity of collegiate hoops. He had to bear down for the stretch.
“I didn’t lift weight much in high school, and one of the big things I had to do was change, physically, how I prepared for practices,” said Churchill, who is in his first year of a Masters program, studying philosophy.
Once his body adjusted to the intensity his skill as a jump shooter kicked in, and it was then that his worth skyrocketed.
“Pretty core to who I am is just being a hard worker, no matter what you do,” he said.
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