Rick Plato had applied for AUS jobs in the past without success. When the head coach spot for the men’s basketball team at Dalhousie opened up, he almost didn’t bother.
But the timing seemed right. John Campbell, who had previously filled the spot for the past 11 years, announced this past spring he would be moving to the University of Toronto. Plato, who was getting ready to retire from his career of teaching, was ready to make the switch from the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) to the CIS.
“For the most part, coaching is coaching. You always have to work on the fundamentals,” Plato says. “But the overall talent is a little higher in the CIS.”
The CIS is the highest level of amateur basketball in Canada, giving it an esteemed reputation. And it can draw better athletes - more so than the CCAA, thanks to the availability of athletic scholarships. Entering the CIS would allow Plato to go up against the best, something he’s always wanted to do.
Plato is no stranger to coaching; he’s been doing it for 32 years.
Following five years on Saint Mary’s basketball team and his graduation, Plato started as an assistant coach at Saint Mary’s in 1981. He then moved to Sir John A MacDonald High School to teach and coach and, a couple of years later, changed to Sackville High School where he remained for five years. In 1988, he was hired at Mount Saint Vincent University.
Plato stayed at the Mount for 25 years where he coached the men’s basketball team, the Mystics, part of the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA). When Plato started, the Mystics were a team that virtually never made the playoffs. He coached the team to 13 AACC titles and 2 CCAA titles. He was named the AACC coach of the year 13 times and was also named the CCAA’s Coach of the Year in 2009. This past spring, he was made an honorary alum of the Mount, along with his wife Andrea.
For Plato, the toughest part of the job has been leaving the small, tight-knit community at the Mount and the relationships he’s made on and off the court.
“I will always have a special place in my heart for the Mount. I spent half my life there,” he says. Though he’ll be coaching Dal, Plato said he’d always be keeping an eye on the Mount.
This year’s season will be a period of adjustment that is sure to have a few bumps along the road but Plato says he loves the new team and its obvious chemistry. The young team, which has only one fifth-year player and many first- and second-year students, has playoff potential as long as everyone stays healthy and avoids injury, says Plato, which has plagued them early this season.
Earlier this month, the Tigers had the opportunity to play defending national champions, Carleton University, as part of the pre-season. It was just what the team needed, Plato says, in order to show the boys what it takes to be number one.
“We learned what it means to go up against the best. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
The team will be busy before the regular season starts in November, with a trip to Antigonish this weekend for the StFX Invitational, followed by another tournament the following weekend hosted by Laval.