By Steve Patrick
When a coach has to explain to reporters why his team hasn’t been winning games lately, he usually answers with lame, clichéd excuses.
“We still have to get mentally prepared for this type of competition,” he’d say, or “We weren’t getting any help from the refs.”
But when the men’s basketball team lost to the York Teomen, 62-50 in the final game of the Raptors Cup, a tournament for Toronto’s university and college teams, coach Terry Haggerty’s explanation resembled something you’d see in a sports psychology textbook.
“Basketball’s a game where you need the ability to concentrate but maintain your speed and intensity and the flow with what’s going on,” he said after the Dec. 22 loss. “Many times you see guys who are concentrating on thinking too much and they’re losing their intensity. There’s other guys who have good speed, but they’re not thinking.”
In other words, some Rams are playing with too much adrenaline and not enough brains, while others do the opposite.
The answer was as complex as the Ram’s season has been frustrating. Constant roster changes and injuries have made it nearly impossible for Haggerty to make up a game plan his team can work with every night.
In September it seemed the Rams would have a dynamite season with talent such as former NCAA Division I players Aron Molner, formerly of Northwestern University, and Alfred McAllister, a Lafayette College graduate, as well as returning OUA first-team all-star forward Bill Crowdis.
But before the preseason started, Molner left to play pro in Europe and Crowdis was put on the sidelines by the school’s registrar for having a poor GPA.
Making matters worse for the Rams was a hand injury to touted freshman forward Tazio Clarke. As a result the Rams struggled in the preseason, going 1-4.
The team began to jell when the regular season started and won its first three games. But since then wins have not come easily.
The team had to adjust to not having an experienced guard when McAllister left in November.
The Baton Rouge, LA. Native was poked in the eye during the Rams OUA league opener on Nov. 10. He went home to nurse the injury and hasn’t returned since. The coaching staff does not expect him back this year.
Crowdis was allowed back on the team in late November and although his addition was welcomed, it had taken the players time to adjust to having their six-foot-seven, three-point shooter back on the floor. In his third game back, the Rams lost 77-73 to U of T, giving them a 5-2 regular-season record at the break.
“Having Crowdis back affects the young kids,” assistant coach Bob Marsh said. “Instead of the ball going all the way around [the key] it stops at Bill and he shoots it. It’s like starting a game plan fresh again.”
Crowdis is likely one of the players who’s spending more time thinking than he is running on the court, but not necessarily because of a lack of adrenaline. He’s still trying to lose about 20 pounds he gained during his three-month hiatus.
By looking at score sheets you’d think he was back to normal when the Rams went 101 at their four-team Ed DeArmon Memorial tournament held Dec. 29 and 30 in Kerr gym.
In an 82-68 loss to the eventual tournament winners, the Guelph Gryphons, he played 32 minutes and led Ryerson scorers with 19 points. The next night he played 28 minutes and scored 16 points in a 64-57 win star honour. But by the end of each game, Crowdis was huffing and puffing up and down the court.
“You try to run, but you’re not in game shape,” Crowdis said. “[Losing the weight] just comes with playing. Every game I’ll lost two pounds and be that much more in shape, so when the playoffs roll around, I should be in the same shape I was last year.”
Being mentally and physically in shape by the time the playoffs start March 1 is the team’s mission this year.
Last year the players hit their stride in January and February, in the midst of a 17-game winning streak. But the team lost two of its four regular-season games before being upset by Queen’s University in their first playoff game.
This history makes Haggerty aware that mid-season records don’t always indicate where a team will be at the end of the season.
“We’re trying to get chemistry going,” Haggerty said after the win over Brock, which brought the Rams’ overall record against university teams to 7-8. “Now that we have everybody available, we’ll put things together.”