Tenicha Gittens and Damian Buckley accept pivotal positions with the Concordia Stingers
By Julian McKenzie @JulianTheIntern
The winds of change have been blowing through the Concordia Stingers this off-season, and their basketball teams were not immune. Tenicha Gittens became the new head coach of the Stingers women’s basketball team after the team parted ways with former coach Keith Pruden, while Concordia Stingers great, Damian Buckley, accepted a job as an assistant coach with the Stingers’ men’s basketball team, joining the staff of new coach Rastko Popovic. Buckley’s responsibilities as assistant coach will lie in player development, recruiting and video editing.
“I’ve always wanted to develop women’s basketball in Montreal,” said Gittens. “I knew I was going to back and build my own program for girls to teach them stuff that I’ve learned in the States. I didn’t know that I necessarily wanted to be the head coach of a university team, but I certainly know that I wanted to run my own program.”
“Ever since I came back [to basketball] it seems like a rebirth,” said Buckley, who has been coaching youth basketball for the last three years. “To be able to come back to Concordia to coach, it’s a new dream that came true.”
Gittens and Buckley, who both played at the university and international levels, have unique stories on how they entered the world of coaching.
Gittens first played basketball as a teenager for Sun Youth before becoming a CEGEP all-star with Dawson from 1999 to 2002. After a year of junior college at Eastern Arizona, she transferred to Hofstra University where she played one season for the Pride. Her playing time was limited after suffering from stress fractures in both of her shins.
Following graduation from the University of Hofstra, Gittens took a job at a marketing firm in New York, just minutes away from school, in 2007. Five months into the job, she realized she was struggling with being away from basketball.
“It was weird not being a part of a team,” she said. “It was weird not having your day planned out for you. Everything is organized. You’re told where you need to be, what time you need to be there, how you have to dress. I definitely missed the game, and I decided that I was coming back home…”
Once Gittens returned to Montreal, she accepted a job as head coach of the St. George’s boys’ high school team. Soon after, she accepted a job as an assistant coach of the McGill Martlets basketball team before returning to the United States for assistant coaching stints with LaSalle University, Howard University and St. Francis University.
Gittens made a big impression on Concordia Stingers Director of Recreation and Athletics, Patrick Boivin, who announced the hiring of the new coach last week.
“She’s extremely dynamic,” Boivin said. “She’s extremely motivated. She’s a very hard worker as well.”
Meanwhile, Buckley, whose first love was hockey, was a university basketball star alongside his brother Dwayne. He has scored over 2,000 points in a Stingers uniform, and was a two-time All-Canadian.
But once his collegiate career ended Buckley didn’t play, or pay much attention to the game of basketball. Buckley admits that after a failed attempt at seeking a career overseas, he suffered from withdrawal from the game.
“I knew competitive basketball was over for me,” he said.
It wasn’t until three years after he left Concordia in 2009 that Buckley returned to basketball, thanks to his son. Buckley wished to get his child into competitive basketball through one of Sun Youth’s basketball teams. Sun Youth then approached him about coaching his son’s team. He wasn’t sure what he was getting into, but he soon regained a passion for basketball.
“I spent hours, sometimes the whole day in the gym,” he said. “Scouting, analyzing, learning…”
As Buckley continued honing his coaching skills with his son, as well as with seventh and eighth graders at Rosemount High School, new Stingers men’s basketball coach Rastko Popovic about the opportunity to join his coaching staff approached him.
The two had only played a year together when they were at Concordia University – it was Popovic’s last year and Buckley’s first – and Popovic used the opportunity to show Buckley the ropes. Popovic even stuck around Concordia’s basketball program after his playing career ended and the two have remained close.
“I’m a very reserved guy, I don’t have many friends,” said Buckley. “He’s one of the guys I kept in touch with.”
Both Gittens and Buckley expect great things from their respective teams. While they both have catching up to do in terms of studying their opponents, that doesn’t mean either coach has shied away from the prospect of winning.
“I expect a lot,” said Buckley. “I expect to win provincial championships and to go to nationals,” said Buckley. “I think we have the group of guys that can do that.”
“I just expect us to work our asses off,” Gittens said. “Effort is non-negotiable, it’s expected. If [the players] do what they have to do individually, I’m going to prepare [them]. The staff is going to prepare [them].”
“As long as we’re getting better, I don’t want any drop-offs. I just want us to consistently progress.”