Current senior boys’ Rainmakers basketball coach Mel Bishop welcomes ex-Rainmaker Ken Shields back to Prince Rupert last week.

Shields offers Rainmakers sage advice

National basketball coach Ken Shields works with the Rainmakers to improve their game for provincials

Winning the 1964 B.C. provincial championships as a Rainmaker is still what national basketball coach and legend, Ken Shields, considers his biggest career achievement.

For four days over the winter break from Dec. 27-30 the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Shields, honoured the Rainmakers with his professional perspective on how to win at provincials.

Rainmakers’ coach Mel Bishop invited his old friend and coach to teach his team some new techniques and how to utilize the skills and wingspan of Justin McChesney, the prototypical 6’10” player.

“I always want the Rupert teams to do well so I came up just to give him (Bishop) a hand and try and help him on his way. Also, Justin is graduating so I wanted to work with him and give him some things to work on that will help him down the road in his basketball career,” Shields said on the fourth day of practice.

The young player with so much promise remains undecided on where he will go to university. Shields wouldn’t mind if McChesney went to the University of Victoria (U-Vic) where he could continue to guide him and watch him play.

Much of Shields’ career was spent coaching the men’s basketball team, the Vikings. His name is imprinted on the court floor in the U-Vic gym. Under his tutelage, the Vikings went to seven national championships in a row, which remains a record today. He’s also worked with four other national teams and went to two Olympics.

“He’s breaking down our zone defense. Mel’s given us a great understanding, but the way that he can break things down further, it’s given everybody more knowledge about it and it’s going to help us,” McChesney said.

Shields thinks the team has a good chance of doing well at provincials and he’s been working with them on how to play against double teams trying to stop McChesney.

“He’s very good technically. It’s another look for my players to get perspective,” Bishop said.

Shields has known Bishop since junior high school. He took Bishop and a bunch of the players to a basketball school in the United States. Bishop was also coached by Shields when he was at Laurentian University for six years in Sudbury. Both men consider each other life long friends.

When Shields reflects on his career and all the exciting opportunities he’s had winning the 1964 provincial championship as a Rainmaker — the only time the team has won that title — is still his number one lifetime achievement.

“It was so special because it taught me that you didn’t have to come from a big city school or a big city to achieve something. Achievement is based on preparation and the will to drive yourself and to compete fiercely and to play as a tremendous team,” he said.

At the time, the Rainmakers won against open competition. The Prince Rupert high school only had about 150 boys in the school and the Rainmakers played against teams that had schools with around 2,000 boys.

Now, divisions are based on school enrolment sizes.

“All of our games down in the championships that year were close games except one and we won them in the last minute and won in overtime. We had toughness and competitiveness.”

The situation for young basketball players was also different back then. Shields said that having a tough summer job at the fish plant or on the waterfront and having the Rainmakers play in a high quality men’s basketball league in the city was an advantage that kids today don’t have.

“We didn’t have cell phones and Playstations and computers. We could focus on basketball and school and pretty well nothing else and then work in the summer.”

He still loves teaching and watching the light flick on when the kids learn ways to improve their game. The advice he left to future basketball players before leaving Prince Rupert:

“Learn to compete hard. You only have a short time and your high school career goes by in a millisecond and it’s done and you never have that opportunity again so make the most of it and achieve the best you can.”