Basketball legend Evan is king of the court

Basketballer Evan Bennett, 82, joins Myths and Legends in Finland


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MYTHICAL CREATURES: Evan Bennett (centre) with Myths and Legends teammates (l-r) Billy Hayes (QLD), Frank Thomasi (SA), Oscar Carlson (SA) and Bob Cannon (NSW).

MYTHICAL CREATURES: Evan Bennett (centre) with Myths and Legends teammates (l-r) Billy Hayes (QLD), Frank Thomasi (SA), Oscar Carlson (SA) and Bob Cannon (NSW).

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At 82, basketball coach and player Evan Bennett is still calling the shots.

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HE may be nudging 83, but for basketball legend Evan Bennett the pace on court is "still as fierce" as it was when he played his first game as a five-year-old at King George V Playground in The Rocks.

The 6ft octogenarian, and NSW Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, has been playing and coaching for decades and was part of the team that took the Australian men's wheelchair basketball team to Gold at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.

Evan is now based on the NSW Central Coast and recently returned from Espoo, near Helskinki in Finland, where he played with Australia's Myths and Legends over-75s in the Federal International Maxibasketball Association (FIMBA) tournament. The biennial masters tournament attracts over 3500 players from 35 to over 80 from all over the world.

ON THE BALL: Basketball 'legend' Evan Bennett, 82 gets some practice in his backyard. Photo: Geraldine Cardozo

ON THE BALL: Basketball 'legend' Evan Bennett, 82 gets some practice in his backyard. Photo: Geraldine Cardozo

"They were short a few players so they rang me and ask if I could play," said Evan, who at the time was recovering from treatment for bowel cancer.

He stepped up to the challenge, training in his backyard. "I ended up coaching too, as I was the oldest one in the team!"

Despite losing to USA and Lithuania the team still came home with medals. "I loved the atmosphere," he said of his Finnish adventure. "Special things happen out there on court."

And like the pace on court, his enthusiasm for the game hasn't waned since he first picked up a basketball in Sydney in 1942.

"Back then there wasn't much in the way of sports grounds. Playgrounds were where the kids played and basketball was new. We'd pick up tips from the US Navy men who would play there," he said.

He recalls playing his first game against a Coronation Playground team. "They beat us by 100 points. I couldn't understand why my teammates were crying. My mum said, 'it's because the boys don't like losing by 100 points'. I didn't know what the score was! Three years' later we beat them."

From playground teams, Evan went on to join Association teams including North Sydney, Maroubra and Leichhard as well as playing for the City of Sydney.

At the same time, Evan was passing on his skills to a younger generation of basketballers, turning to coaching as a teenager in the early 1950s.

"My way of coaching is that everyone does the same thing - man, boy, girl, woman," said Evan. "You've got to work at your craft and got to be in an environment where you want to get better."

Evan 'The Claw' Bennett (jumping) in action in 1962 with George Thompson (number 7) and Keith Lonard (number 6).

Evan 'The Claw' Bennett (jumping) in action in 1962 with George Thompson (number 7) and Keith Lonard (number 6).

Evan's hugely successful coaching career has seen him lead teams at representative, state and national level, from NSW and Queensland womens' teams to men's wheelchair basketball in the '90s.

He has coached the Australian men's B team to a win in China in 1994, and as assistant coach to the Australian men's A team he not only guided them to gold at the Paralympic games, but also to wins in Japan, Canada, Spain and England. He also mentored Paralympian and now Gosford MP Liesl Tesch for eight years.

When asked why he loves basketball his reply is quick: "The competition, the friendships you make, the different places you go, and you can never learn all there is to know about it," he said.

Despite being 82, Evan is still involved with the Central Coast Waves - he was coaxed out of retirement to coach his grandson's basketball team and has been with the team ever since.

And looking forward, the next FIMBA tournament is being held in Orlando in 2021. He said "time will tell" if he'll be signing up for that one.

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