By Lena Wan
The sounds of thumping basketballs and squeaky running shoes echo through the gym and into the halls of Jarvis Collegiate on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Boys basketball coach Peter Moravec stands in the middle of the gym watching his team play a little one-on-one at each of the gym’s six basketball hoops. The whistle blows and the players start running around the gym, passing the ball back and forth before topping it off with a lay away.
Jarvis Collegiate Bulldog Toby Scott is sitting on the bench watching his teammates practice. He’s not on the court today because he has a foot injury.
After high school, Scott wants to play for a big, well-known university. THe University of Toronto, York and The University of Western are interested in acquiring the 6’4″ shooting guard. U of T and York have even visited Scott’s home to convince him to come to their schools.
So what about coming to Ryerson?
“I don’t know too much about Ryerson,” he says. “To me, Ryerson has always been the University of Toronto’s younger brother.”
Scott illustrates one of the problems a mid-sized university like Ryerson has with recruiting good players. Ryerson is still considered by some to be a quasi-university.
Ryerson’s athletic director Bob Fullerton believes the school’s image is changing. He thinks selling Ryerson to high school athletes has become easier since it became a university in 1993.
“Before becoming an accredited university, Ryerson was just a school that offered degrees,” he says.
But selling yourself is an important part of the recruiting game. Ryerson’s athletic department hopes to make themselves known better with an increase in their recruiting budget. The President’s Advisory Committee on Athletics and Recreation passed a motion to Ryerson’s Board of Governors to increase the budget to $35,000 from $18,000.
Fullerton says this money is used to cover the recruiter’s travelling expenses when he goes to scout players.
Richard Dean is an assistant coach for both the men’s and the women’s basketball teams and plays a part on the recruiting team.
He says making and maintaining contact with the player is important because it can mean the difference between securing a commitment to Ryerson or letting the player slip away.
“We’re looking at three players in Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax for the women’s team. With the extra money, I can fly out there, watch a few of their games and keep in touch with them. We want to make sure the players know that we’re interested,” he says.
Omar Omar, one of the stars of the Jarvis Bulldogs, smiles after he sinks a basket. There’s not much time for the lanky 6’4″ guard to stand and relish his shot. As soon as the ball hits the ground, he starts dribbling and passing the ball to another teammate.
Omar, a Grade 12 student, hopes to play basketball well into his university years — as a member of the Ryerson Rams.
He wants to play at Ryerson because he likes the facilities and he knows coach Dean. But even if he doesn’t become a Ram, Omar won’t have to worry about finding his way to Kerr gym.
“A couple of friends and I used to sneak into the gym to shoot some hoops,” he says. “Sometimes the basketball players would ask us to join them, but we said no because we were too shy.”
Dean has taken note of Omar’s shenanigans. They met two years ago at a high school all-star game and have kept in touch. Instead of reading him the riot act about Ryerson’s trespassing policy, Omar said Dean has given him a few pointers on how to improve his game.
Dean says Omar would be a perfect fit for the Rams because he’s a versatile player. “Omar has the ability to score and he’s great defensively.”
Ryerson hopes to recruit more players like Omar. But recruiting good players has become harder as more universities are doing it. “Recruiting has become more competitive because there are lots of schools making contact with the player,” says Ryerson men’s basketball coach Terry Haggerty.
Michele Belanger, women’s basketball coach at the University of Toronto, agrees and adds that schools are becoming more aggressive in selling their schools and basketball programs.
“Lots of programs have full time coaches now,” she says. “This can really help improve the profile of the school.”
Another obstacle for Ryerson in recruiting players is the school doesn’t have many academic scholarships and bursaries to offer students.
Since most Canadian universities can’t give out athletic scholarships (only Simon Fraser University in British Columbia offers athletic scholarships) students have to find their own way to pay for tuition. Belanger says lack of financial support is a big disadvantage for Ontario universities.
“It’s difficult to compete when other conferences and the U.S. offer financial incentives,” she says.
Despite being a mid-sized university, Ryerson still offers advantages. One benefit is the facilities such as the RAC. Another one is smaller classes.
“People from small towns might like the fact that Ryerson has smaller classes. There’s more one on one contact with the teachers and you’re not just a face in a class of 500,” says Ryerson’s women’s basketball coach Sandra Pothier.
Ryerson’s programs are another selling point. Jarvis coach Moravec says kids are looking for more than a place to play basketball.
“People want practical knowledge,” he says. “Ryerson can offer that and more kids are looking at the school as a possible destination.”
Recruiting players can start as early as Grade 9. Dean says he goes to a few high school games and tournaments, and talks with the coaches about their good players.
“I make up a list of players I scout and I check to see how they’re doing as they go through high school,” Dean says.
In Grade 12, recruiters start talking to players about their plans after high school. Then they’ll give the players some literature about the university. In their final year, the recruiters start their final push in securing a commitment from the player. This means more chats with the players, more information about the school is handed out and possibly a home visit from the university with the player and his parents. Players are invited to visit the campus and watch a basketball game. If they want a taste of campus life, they can stay overnight with a student. After that, the final decision is up to the student.
“When they fill out their university application forms, we make sure one of their choices is Ryerson,” Dean says. “If not we try to find out why and convince them to put in Ryerson.”
How do the high school coaches fit into the recruiting picture?
U of T’s Belager says high school coaches don’t have much influence on the players when it comes to helping them figure out where to go.
“I don’t spend much time with the coach,” she says. “It’s better to go straight to the student.”
Haggerty believes it’s up to the high school coach on how much he wants to help out his player.
“Some coaches are interested in helping their players, others don’t care,” he says.
Terry Thomson, boy’s basketball coach at Oakwood Collegiate says he gives advice to players — but only if they want it. He says most players have a good idea of what they want to do.
“Most players know where the good basketball schools are,” he says. He says players often come to him and tell him which university they want to go to. Thomson will call up the coach of that university and let him know that a player is interested in playing there.
“I’d never tell them I think you should go here,” he says. “My job is to counsel the player and make sure that he asks the right questions so that he can get the most out of his university experience.”
Omar stands still as first-year coach Moravenc gives the team some pointers on how to improve its defence.
Omar isn’t sure what he wants to study yet. All he’s sure of is that he wants to become a Ram. That way he won’t have to sneak into Kerr gym to play basketball.