By Stephen Petrick
Jan-Michael Nation is the basketball team’s only returning all-star.
Jan-Michael Nation, now Ryerson’s longest-serving men’s basketball player, has never shown a lot of emotion on the court. But two exceptions stick out.
In the spring of 1999, as a rookie guard, he broke into tears moments after he helped the underdog Rams capture the school’s first-ever OUA east division title in a dramatic two-game playoff run.
The next year he broke into tears when the Rams blew a 17-3 regular season with a first-round playoff loss to the lowly Queen’s University Golden Gaels. Since then he has rarely smiled during games and practices. A business-like expression has been locked on his face and last year’s first-round playoff loss to York University after a 14-6 regular season didn’t do much to get rid of it.
“I’ve had a bitter taste in my mouth since we lost to Queen’s,” the second-year public administration student said after practicing Monday. “It still burns me, but you’ve got to move on. That’s the theme for me this year.” As the only fourth-year player on a team with nine newcomers, Nation will be called on more than ever before to step up in big games and help the Rams earn a ninth straight appearance in the postseason.
“He might play 40 minutes [a game],” said coach Terry Haggerty, “if that’s what it takes to win.” Not that Nation hasn’t had a big role to play before. His 14.8 points-per game average last year was second best on the team and ninth best in the province. His 130 rebounds and 43 assists were both third highest on the team. Those statistics earned him a second straight appearance on the OUA East division second all-star team.
But those numbers were put up playing with fellow all-star Bill Crowdis, who, after using his final year of eligibility last year, left the school to pursue a pro career. Putting more pressure on Nation this year will be the hiatus of forward Sasha Ivankovic.
Ivankovic, the captain of last year’s squad and one of the OUA’s leading rebounders, will undergo surgery on his left wrist this November. By sitting out this year he can play his final year of eligibility next season, when he returns for a sixth year at school. But Nation isn’t worried about the added pressure of having to make up for the lost scoring.
“I put pressure on myself more than anyone,” he said. “Scoring – I’m not worried about that because I know no one can guard me.”
Nation’s ability to both, drive to the net and score from three-point range has helped him amass 906 points in three years with the Rams – making him fourth on the team’s all-time scoring list. He’s on pace to break Jamie Voskuil’s record total of 1,144 points, which was amassed from 1983 to 1988.
The honour would be more of a symbol of Nation’s commitment to Ryerson basketball than his finesse as training ground for athletes looking to polish their skills before signing pro contracts, Nation has been a rare mainstay. After the playoff loss to Queen’s he was the only starter who guaranteed he would come back for another.
“I think that would be Jan’s biggest frustration in his career here,” Haggerty said. “A number of guys have com and gone and have not made the commitment he’s made.”
What would be even more frustrating is not having another trip to the national championship tournament in Halifax, which the Rams last reached in 1999.
This year’s team is made up of three players from the 1999-2000 roster and a pile of college transfer. Nation believes Nationals is a realistic goal. And since this is his last year of CIS eligibility he’ll have some added incentive to make it.
“I’ve been working hard the whole summer and I want to make the best of this year,” he said. “I don’t want to think back and say I wish I did this, I wish I did that.”