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Brian Jonker: The coach who made Mohawk history

Brian Jonker retired from coaching Mohawk College’s men’s basketball team in March 2023 after 18 years with the team.

During his time with Mohawk, he won two OCAA Championships and five conference medals with the team, won the OCAA West Division Coach of the Year twice, holds the record for the most conference wins in any Mountaineers sport and led his team to winning the CCAA National Championship in 2012.

Jonker played for the Mohawk Mountaineers from 1992-1994, but coaching the team didn’t cross his mind right away.

“I hadn’t even really considered it,” Jonker said. “The first year after I finished playing in college, my now-wife was still playing at Mohawk. I would go back and watch her games and I’d thought that maybe I would be interested in [coaching], but obviously you can’t just jump right into the college level.”

Jonker’s coaching career instead started at the high school level at Assumption College in Brantford, but it was far from smooth sailing at the start.

“I think we won one in 25 [our first season],” Jonker recalled. “The one game we won, I was away on my honeymoon and my assistant coach won that game, so I didn’t even see a win in my first year of coaching.”

Despite the early difficulties, Jonker was able to improve enough to achieve better results in the coming years.

“There was a group of kids in that high school that were just fantastic,” Jonker said. “I knew they were coming and I had to try and be ready for when they got to me in senior year. Looking back on it now, we had some good success.”

When Jonker joined the Mohawk College team in 2005, he found the jump from high school to college level to be smoother than expected.

“It might not be as different as you might think,” Jonker said. “The skill level is different, but the reality is that the communication that’s involved in coaching, whether it’s in the actual teaching of things or establishing relationships with each of your players, is happening at every level.”

Jonker’s first few years at Mohawk were spent building the team and looking toward the future. He specifically wanted to find players who were not only good on the court, but were succeeding academically as well.

“We didn’t find success right away,” Jonker said. “It took two or three years before we started seeing some results. We started knocking on the door of being in the top 10 of the province. In season five, we kind of broke through and got closer. And then in season six, we knocked the door down.”

The 2012 Mountaineers Men’s Basketball team was inducted into the Mohawk Hall of Fame in 2023.Varsity Special

Jonker’s team won the CCAA Championship in 2012, coming into the tournament as the fourth-seeded team and beating the second-seeded Mount Royal University 88-73 in the final.

While he didn’t expect to win the championship that year, Jonker knew early on that they would be strong contenders. 

“We knew going into the season that we were talented,” Jonker said. “We knew that we had good pieces and really strong guard play. By the time January rolled around, we started rolling. You could sense that there was something special happening.”

Winning the CCAA Championship was a special moment for Jonker and his team, and made Mohawk history.

“I felt a true sense of accomplishment,” Jonker said. “It was a group of people who worked really hard together to get there and did it the right way. [Mohawk] hadn’t won a championship in 40 years, so to go to nationals and then to run through nationals like we did, it was all new to everybody.”

Mountaineers players at the time remember Jonker and his coaching style fondly, and credit his personality as one of his strengths.

“Jonker is all about positivity,” Manny Campbell, a point guard from 2011-2013, said. “Especially with young players, if you keep their confidence high, they grow into better players than if you would always drill them for little mistakes. He’s definitely good at bringing people together.”

Other players who worked with Jonker agreed that their coach’s upbeat attitude made them better players and helped them enjoy the sport.

“[Jonker’s positivity] allowed his athletes to play with freedom and confidence.” Aminu Bello, co-captain from 2010-2012, said. “He emphasized positivity without being over-critical when faced with adversity or displaying ego in times of success, and it brought our team to a new level by playing with joy and reducing the pressures of winning for a mature team.”

Since retiring, Jonker has been back to watch the Mountaineers basketball teams play at the college several times and was inducted into the Mountaineers Hall of Fame in 2023.

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