By Eli Shupak
Ryerson’s men’s basketball team has a big hole to fill in their lineup after Scott Belasco’s illustrious four-year career as a Ram came to a close at the end of last season.
But looking around the Ontario University Athletics East division, the other contending teams have gaps to fill as well.
With the three-time division all-star and 1996/97 Ryerson male athlete of the year now reduced to spectator status — with the exception of his annual Alumni appearance — it will be up to seniors Carl Harper, Brian Smith, Duncan Prescott and eight new faces on the team to pick up the slack. Also returning for another year are Rob Armstrong, Ryan Mitchell, Dave Pertopolous and Godfrey Hunte.
Belasco donned a Ryerson alumni jersey for the first time last Friday night and suited up with old buddies Chris Szarka, Michael Chisholm and current assistant coaches Ainsworth Slowly and Lui Cinello to play against this year’s Rams team.
Youth prevailed 88-66 over the Alumni team. Ryerson guard Brian Smith was the game’s high scorer with 26 and helped get the Rams (3-2) back in the win column after setbacks to Laurier and Brock. Belasco led the Alumni team with 23 points.
“We’ve got a good core of people back,” said Ryerson basketball coach Terry Haggerty, who returns for his 17th season at the helm as a married man after tying the knot with a school administrator over the summer.
“We think it’s about the second-best recruiting class we’ve ever had. We’ve got some guys who can come in and play right away and others with high potential.”
It would be next to impossible to top the 1993 class of two-time all-Canadian Alex Beason, along with Belasco, Harper and Chisholm. But among this year’s highly-touted recruits include 6’6” forward Sasha Ivankovic, Claude Gaynor at point guard and University of Toronto junior transfer Daryl Gee, who is expected to start.
Ryerson will need a strong contribution from these players if the team is to return to the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
Harper, along with Ivankovic, Gee and Hunte will be the go-to guys under the basket, hoping to pick up where Belasco left off.
“No one’s going to compare to Scott right now,” said Haggerty, of the team’ MVP the past three seasons. “But we’ve improved our depth [from last year] and now have four or five guys who can score consistently.
“I think we’re deeper overall and improved our balance at the forward position. We don’t have to worry so much about fouls and injuries.”
U of T, York University and defending OUA East champion Laurentian University all lost key players to graduation.
The U of T Blues and York Yeomen have lost all but one of their starters from 1996, while the Laurentian Voyageurs enter the season as favourites to repeat as division champion, but minus Jason Hurley and Ram-killer Shawn Swords.
The Rams conclude their preseason schedule on Saturday when they host University of Guelph at 4 p.m.