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John Bennett balancing life and basketball with Raptors

The Kitchener native is the coordinator for player development for the NBA's Toronto Raptors
john bennett
Kitchener's John Bennett (right), the Toronto Raptors' coordinator for player development, poses with the Larry O'Brien trophy with his former coach at KCI, Nick White (left). Mark Pare/KitchenerToday

He wasn't the biggest player on the court.

He may not have even been the fastest.

No matter how you cut it, it's been an unlikely path to the NBA for Kitchener's John Bennett, but he's been doing okay for himself.

And you only have to look at his ring finger for proof.

(Well, you can look whenever he takes out a certain piece of hardware, which he admits is not that often).

The graduate of Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate is, of course, the coordinator for player development with the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.

It's his seventh season with the organization, and in that time, he has bounced around a number of roles.

"Initially I went to school for sports media," he said, noting his time at the College of Sports Media in Toronto, "But when I was there, I discovered the job of video coordinator for NBA teams."

"I had no idea it existed.  I had long since abandoned the idea of ever working in any coaching capacity, or going down that path in the NBA cause I just didn't think it was possible.  But when I discovered that, I was kind of encouraged by one of my teachers to pursue it a little bit, get to know some people and see how far I could take it."

It was then that he realized he was good at video editing, and so the journey began with the Raps, monitoring the SportVU Hoops Tracking system on a volunteer basis in 2012.

The volunteer gig materialized into a paid job with the team, working in basketball operations.

There isn't much that can be publicized with the role he is in now, but it's "pretty much anything to do with assisting our coaching staff in terms of getting our players better."

It's not just video editing that's his expertise, but his knowledge of the game itself.

"He always had that eye," said Nick White, who was Bennett's coach when playing high school ball with KCI, "From the basketball X and O point of view, from video analysis, he's always had that, he's always had that ability to read what was happening."

Bennett did come back to help White do some coaching for a year, before heading to Toronto to pursue dreams of broadcasting.

White says his former pupil did have some skill --- he wouldn't have made the team if he didn't --- and was first and foremost a great teammate.

"My memories (at KCI) are mostly on the bench," Bennett acknowledged, "And I'd say probably our first year when I was in Grade 9, I was fortunate enough to play with some really great players, a few of which went on to play collegiately, one being Luke Kieswetter at the University of Waterloo, who actually grew up with me and lived on my block."

Bennett says it's those players, along with family, friends, coaches and other teammates that lent a hand into what he does today.

"I have an older brother, so I was passing and rebounding for him, and he jokes about that with me today, that like he prepared me for my current career, helping out on court, which is completely true," he said.

The bloodline runs deeper than that too, Bennett adds, pointing out his grandfather helped start up the Tillsonburg Livingstons.

The Livvies had some mainstream success in the 1950's, highlighted by the team representing Canada at the 1952 Olympic Games.

"I was just super fortunate to have some history in my family," Bennett said, "It never helped me get anywhere with (basketball), I don't remember a time where I talked with my grandpa about that."

"But then to reflect on it and be told more about it once I had actually broken through and gotten into the NBA was very cool, just to know how excited he would've been about this journey that I'm on right now."

While Bennett says he's still growing when it comes to his knowledge of the game, he considers himself lucky to have had great coaches along the way.

As for now, his work-home life can be a balancing act, but Bennett seemingly has a handle on it.

"Somebody from our organization once told me there's game days, and there's non-game days," Bennett said, "And after you figure that out, you're going to be fine.  That's really what it is."

And as for that piece of hardware, his NBA Championship ring, it's a nice memento but he's already focused on the next.

"But every time I see this ring --- I don't take it out often, obviously cause I'm just so busy working and going through daily life --- but when I take it out, it is pretty special to look down," he said.

"You definitely feel the difference on your hand."

If the Raptors continue to be a contender in the Eastern Conference --- even without 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard --- that hand could get even heavier with expensive hardware.

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