By Caroline Alphonso
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, two of Ryerson’s men’s basketball players realized there’s no place like home.
“It was a joke [playing in the US],” said Jan Michael Nation, guard for the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team.
Last year, Nation, who was born and raised in Toronto, was given a full scholarship to play basketball and study computer science at Western Oklahoma State College. He was put into general studies because he arrived six days after school started. One of his courses was basketball practice, which was worth an academic credit. For some of his other courses, teachers simply gave out marks if players came to class.
Nation is now in his first year of Ryerson’s diploma arts program, and hopes to get into computers science next year. His credits from Oklahoma are not transferable. “I wasted a year of academics,” he said.
“A lot of players don’t realize they’re getting pushed through the system,” said Nation. “You just have to be in class to get a mark. Players are coming out of school with nothing.”
Nation’s nightmare began when he signed his letter of intent to play college basketball at Western Oklahoma State College.
When he was nearing the end of high school, basketball coach from Western Oklahoma visited him. “Right there it impressed me that he drove all this way to meet with me,” Nation said.
In return for his performance on the court, Nation was given a full scholarship to the university. His tuition, room and meal tickets were paid for the next two years.
The whole deal sounded great until he stepped off the plane in Altus, Oklahoma.
Nation said the coach promised to pick him up from the airport. When Nation arrived, he was standing alone at the airport and eventually had to take a taxi to the school.
Nation said he was also promised a room to himself, but all he got was a mattress in a living room because there were no rooms available at the time.
Three weeks into the school year, he had his meal tickets taken away because they were too expensive. The $50 a month he received to cover the cost of electricity and other necessities. “I was starving. I got sued to eating one meal a day,” he said.
Nation left the U.S. over the summer after finding out his mother had a brain tumour and his grandmother got into an accident. He decided never to return to the school.
“You’re getting paid to go to school … they only care about what you’re doing for the school. If you don’t perform, someone else will take your position,” he said.
“It was a tough year [in Oklahoma], but it was a learning experience,” he said. “I am just amazed how all those students get pushed through the system and they have no idea until after the fact.”
Nation’s Ryerson teammate, Trevor Challenger, said he would have remained in the States if he had found a place to live.
Challenger is also in his first year of the diploma in arts program at Ryerson. Challenger played at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. He was given a full scholarship to play basketball and study business management. However, he couldn’t find a place to live in his second year of school. Even though he received a full scholarship, residence was not paid for, so he returned home.
Challenger does not regret playing in the States. He said the emphasis in the U.S. is on the game itself, while Canada holds a different viewership.
“Over here most guys are not really thinking about going pro. They have other things on their minds, like getting their degree,” he said.