July 29, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
On Wednesday night the United States Women’s National Basketball Team took a major step toward international glory with an 84-62 win over France in Newark, Delaware.
On the other side of the country, in San Diego County, California, another U.S. representative brought home a similarly impressive, although much less-heralded, victory. The U.S. Armed Forces Women’s Basketball Team raised its record to 3-0, with a 73-56 win over China in the 2nd CISM (Council International du Sport Militaire — International Military Sports Council) World Military Women’s Basketball Championship (they’re 4-0 following Thursday night’s 91-27 demolition of Germany).
The CISMs, which continue through this weekend at Camp Pendleton, bring together teams from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, China, France and Germany in a military version of the Olympics.
Georgia Tech fans might recognize No. 20 on that U.S. team, which heads into a first-place showdown with Brazil, also 4-0, in Friday night’s final game of the round-robin prior to this weekend’s playoffs.
She goes by Shaniqua Monnette Bennett but is better known by Jackets fans as “Mo” from her playing days at Georgia Tech (2008-12). Bennett is getting big minutes and has been a quiet force at power forward, small forward and occasionally two-guard. It’s a familiar role for Mo, who did the same things in the same manner on the Flats, only then wearing jersey No. 2.
Bennett will never rank among the most flamboyant players ever to come through the Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball program, but she has a place right at the top when it comes to the most intense, most passionate, and hardest-nosed players ever to lace ‘em up, and she played an integral part on some of the most successful teams in program history.
Bennett was in the senior class that recorded school-bests in total wins (95) and ACC wins (37), and set single-season-highs for wins (26) and conference wins (12) while recording the school’s first Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament. She was the quiet X-factor, who did whatever it took for the team to win, all the while hiding her emotion behind an all-business scowl.
About all that has changed is that now, when Bennett puts on a basketball uniform it’s for the United States Navy and, for the remainder of this week, for the United States — during the day she proudly dons the Coast Guard uniform.
Still a fierce competitor, Bennett noted that the CISM’s have the national pride of the Olympics, but that emotion needs to be measured.
“Even though you’re playing for your country, you’re also playing in the military so you have to keep it in perspective that it promotes peace and friendship through sports because we’ll all be leaders in our military one day,” she said. “So it’s important for us to remember that when we reach that level and certain things happen throughout the world, just remember that we met and we’ve spoken. Just kind of keep it in perspective about how cultures are different, yet at the same time we have similarities.”
Bennett, who is in her second year in the Coast Guard, loves the competition, be it against other countries or the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, where she knows several players, that she met in college. Having gone through the Georgia Tech-Georgia rivalry, she now gets a taste of Army-Navy and the contest for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy.
“That’s exactly how it is. You go out and you play your heart out. The competition is really good,” she said. “It’s competitive the entire time. Everybody’s good and anybody can win on any given day.”
Bennett admits that she never thought there would be a day that she would be in the military.
“After college I worked in Atlanta for a little bit at a trade school. It was what I loved to do and it was fun but after a while I just felt like I needed to do more,” said the 2012 graduate, who majored in History. “I wanted to join the military, even though I always said I wouldn’t because my dad was in the Army for 20 years. I was looking at the other branches and the Coast Guard just made the most sense to me.”
Bennett is currently a seaman, stationed in Baltimore and works on the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle (for the history of the Eagle, visit http://www.cga.edu/eagle.aspx?id=688).
“It’s a giant sailing vessel, it looks like one of those ships from like the 1800s,” she said. “I work on it, I climb, and I fix all kinds of stuff. Anything you can think of that requires maintenance I do it.”
Sounds a lot like what she does on the basketball court. ‘Mo’ was introduced to Armed Forces Sports by Charmaine Clark, who played collegiately against Bennett and the Yellow Jackets at Miami, and who currently serves in the Air Force, and was encouraged by her recruiter, Leon Judge. After going through the proper channels and the vetting process — which included receiving a letter of reference from Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph — Bennett was permitted to play. Since the Coast Guard doesn’t field a team, Bennett was granted permission to play for the Navy. It’s been a perfect fit.
“One of my teammates on the team now, we played against each other in college. She played at the University of Miami, also,” Bennett said. “A lot of us on the team played in college. So it’s kind of cool to see us all playing here.”
Her first taste of this new chapter of basketball came in early July in the Armed Forces Women’s Basketball Championship and was bittersweet. Bennett helped Navy get to the final game against Army, which came in 6-0 and had beaten Navy twice previously in the tournament by 22 and 36 points. In a game that had seven ties and 14 lead changes, the Cadets prevailed, 67-65, needing a three-pointer at the final buzzer.
While she called it “the best game of the Tournament,” coming close still doesn’t work for Bennett, who after the game re-introduced the world to the “Bennett scowl.” in fact, a picture was posted on Facebook with the entire team putting on the pose, a look that her teammates and fellow Coast Guard personnel know well.
“It’s how I look at work a lot of times,” she said, with a laugh. “After the championship game I was not very happy so they made that pose. [The caption] was like, ‘They’re doing the Mo Bennett Pose. Wishing them luck in the CISM Tournament.’”
The support of her dad, who puts his Army roots aside, helped her get over that loss and is something she greatly appreciates every day.
“My dad’s always been super-supportive. He’s probably my biggest fan, him and my grandma,” Bennett said. “He will text me and coach on how we can beat China. He’s just excited. He’s happy for me. He’s happy I’m playing again.”
Bennett also has found contentment in getting the opportunity to get back on the court and is even prouder of getting to serve her country and wear the Coast Guard uniform. She plans on sticking around for a while.
“I’m really happy and I’m glad that I chose the route that I did,” she said. “I see myself staying here for a while. I plan on putting in an application to become an officer and I think I’ll do no less than 10 years. If everything works out the way I would like, I’d like to stay up to 20 to get a full retirement.”
As Bennett continues to grow within her role in the Coast Guard, she also gives credit to Joseph for helping her to grow during her formative days at Georgia Tech.
“All the stuff that Coach Jo would tell us every day — about integrity, doing the right things, staying focused, speaking up and making eye contact, introducing yourself and allowing people to know who you are, working hard — I sent her a card and a picture and I told her that everything that she told me helped me through boot camp,” she said. “To this day I still see all those lessons that she taught us. It’s a reinforcement of everything she said. When you’re a kid, you don’t want to hear it. You’re like, ‘Whatever. She’s just talking.’ Now I see and I thank her for everything.”
For more on Armed Forces Sports visit: http://armedforcessports.defense.gov/.
To follow the CISM World Military Women’s Basketball Championships, go to http://armedforcessports.defense.gov/Sports/Basketball/2nd-CISM-World-Womens-Basketball