2/5/2008

Henry Bekkering Feature by the Canadian Press

Filed under: — Matt Skinn @ 1:46 pm

By Lori Ewing

TORONTO – Dan Vanhooren says there’s at least one moment in every practice when Henry Bekkering does something so athletically outrageous, the coach can only shake his head in amazement.

“Any take to the rim that he has, he has so much power,” says Vanhooren, head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos.

Bekkering became a hoops folk hero in 2002 when footage of a high-school dunk contest was posted on the Internet. The high-flying basketball player
from Taber, Alta., hangs from the rim by the crook of his elbow, borrowing from Vince Carter’s winning performance in the 2000 NBA dunk contest. He
soars to the hoop from the top of the key. He leaps over his point guard.

Vanhooren recalls a dunk at a recent Dinos practice: “I threw an alley-oop to him from centre court. Henry goes up from the weak side of the floor and
I throw it . . . it’s a horrible pass, like it’s horrible. Nobody on this planet should have got it. But he catches it and reverses it over top of some of our six-foot-eight posts.

“That’s an NBA thing.”

To look at the video footage – which now numbers over a million views – the future looked bright for Bekkering. His eye-popping athleticism would make
any NCAA coach salivate. His ticket, it seemed, was his for the writing.

But it didn’t turn out that way. A wrong turn took Bekkering to Eastern Washington University, where he wilted at the end of the bench for two seasons. His confidence disappeared.

But Bekkering’s found a fresh start. He’s back in Alberta, playing alongside his younger brother Ross, and leading the University of Calgary Dinos to
what could be their best season in decades.

“I just wasn’t enjoying it down in the States,” Bekkering says. “It was a chore to an extent. Now I’m playing how I want to play, how I envisioned
myself playing. I’m happy where I am in Calgary.”

The six-foot-six forward is averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds a night for the third-ranked Dinos, who capped their perfect 12-0 home record with a
pair of wins last weekend against Manitoba and Winnipeg.

The Dinos (17-3) wrap up the regular season with a pair of games at Saskatchewan this weekend. They have a bye through the first round of the
playoffs before hosting the winner of the Alberta-Saskatchewan semifinal in a best-of-three Central Division final.

Bekkering’s three highlight-reel dunks Saturday against Winnipeg brought the crowd to its feet at the U of C’s Jack Simpson Gym.

But the Dino player was hesitant to leave his feet when he first arrived home from Cheney, Wash. His web fame painted him as a one-dimensional
player; he was keen to show off the other facets of his game.

One online video shows Bekkering leaping over a group of children en route to the rim. He was even featured on the Best Damn Sports Show Period in
2004. The show counted down the Top 50 dunks of all-time – Bekkering was No. 39.

“When he started playing for us this year, he wouldn’t even dunk in warmup because he didn’t want people to think of him only as a dunker,” Vanhooren
says. “He’s a great athlete and he provides a heck of a lot more than just that, and that’s the part that I think he’d like people to notice sometimes
but doesn’t get noticed.

“I’ve had to have chats with him about just being who he is and embracing that. I think he’s going to have to grow into that a little bit.”

Bekkering scored 39 points in a game last month against Lethbridge, the best single-game performance by a Dino in nearly 11 years. His scoring that night came on a wide array of shots, as he poured in points on layups, three-pointers and free throws.

But when the Dinos need a big play to boost momentum, he’ll respond with a rim-rattling dunk.

“It helps get our team pumped up,” he said. “But it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s not like I score 20 points off 10 dunks. But it definitely
helps our team with a momentum boost, or heps turn our game around.

“It’s a bit of an intimidation factor too.”

So impressive is Bekkering’s athletic ability that the Calgary Stampeders took him in the fifth round (35th overall) in the 2007 CFL draft.

“Henry Bekkering is as talented an athlete as has probably ever played in this league,” Stamps GM Jim Barker said at the time. “He’s a guy we
believe is better athletically than anyone in the CFL.”

“He’s already one of the fastest, biggest slotbacks – if he’s going to play – in the CFL, and he hasn’t even played,” Vanhooren says.

But basketball is in Bekkering’s blood. Growing up in the hoops hotbed of southern Alberta, his W.R. Meyers high school – with 350 students – dispatched Calgary’s Lester B. Pearson (1,500 students) in the 4A provincial championships when he was in Grade 11.

Bekkering is the fourth in his family to play for the Dinos. His older sisters Anna and Cory both played for the U of C. His younger sister Janelle
plays for NCAA Division 1 basketball at Gonzaga.

His father Simon could still dunk when he was 50.

“I think that was the last time he did,” Bekkering said, laughing.

While he’s not sure of his plans for the future, he has Dutch citizenship so playing pro in Europe could be in the cards. He’d also like a shot at playing for the national team.

As for the Dinos, Vanhooren is optimistic the team could go all the way to the CIS final this year. In 2004, the team went 15-5 in conference play and
won the Canada West conference. They lost to Carleton by two points in the national semifinals, and Carleton went on to win the CIS title.

“It definitely is one of the best teams ever here by far,” Vanhooren says.

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