After losing four starting players, this season shaped up as a rebuilding year for the University of Toronto men’s basketball team. However, the Blues improved so much over the course of the campaign that Mike Katz, right, was recently recognized as the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Coach of the Year.
The fourth-year bench boss led the team – his alma mater – to a 17-5 regular-season record, good for second place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East, behind Carleton, which finished the season undefeated at 22-0. Toronto was ranked as high as sixth in the country in February, its highest level in the polls since 1997.
The Blues clinched an opening-round playoff bye, but saw their best season in over a decade end at home in a 63-60 sudden-death semifinal loss to the University of Ottawa.
“From my standpoint, I don’t think we exceeded expectations,” said Katz, who became only the second U of T coach to win the Stuart W. Aberdeen trophy. “I have realistic goals. By and large, I think we made them. In this business, you’ve got to look at the overall picture, so I think I was pretty pleased.”
A three-time Canadian college coach of the year, Katz, 59 this month, credits this season’s success as well as the award to his four assistants, one of whom is his son, Ben. The younger Katz was a first-team conference all-star playing for his dad the previous season.
Katz has a long list of achievements on his coaching resume, including leading Canada to a silver medal finish at the 1997 World University Games in Italy and spending a good part of 10 years with the national team, culminating with his role as assistant coach under Jay Triano at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Earlier in his career, he relished the opportunity of coaching Canada at the Maccabiah Games. He went to the 1993 competition as an assistant, after having played in the 1977 and 1981 Games. However, Katz has not had anything to do with Maccabi Canada since. He is disappointed he wasn’t selected to coach the team at the 2005 Games..
“Bernie Offstein was heavily involved in Maccabi and the year before he died [January 2004], he told me I was going to be Maccabi coach,” recalled Katz. “I said ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’
“He gave his life to Maccabi and as soon as he’s gone, the guy he groomed [Allen Gerskup] turned around and said, ‘Mike, I have no choice, I can’t give it to you.’ I didn’t appreciate that. I let him know that.”
Gerskup, now Maccabi Canada president, said it wasn’t Offstein’s place to offer Katz the position because it wasn’t his decision.
“Bernie was on the executive. He wasn’t on the [National Action] Committee,” said Gerskup. “He had no input whatsoever in that.