A sports column
By Noah Love
All stars are gone but the teams look even better
Ryerson’s basketball teams are embracing a new formula for success: Playing together, rather than for themselves. In the past couple of years this has been a foreign concept to the Rams.
Last season, the women’s team devoted all their energy getting the ball to now departed Miruana Muller. She’s a great player, but she couldn’t drive an offense by herself.
She usually accounted for half of the team’s offense and most of their shots but when you’re only scoring 30-45 points a game, it doesn’t speak volumes for your ability as a leader.
The men’s team featured a wealth of talented but selfish ballplayers who spent more time hanging out in the Kerr gym than they did in class. Heading this list was six-foot-seven forward Bill Crowdis – a big guy who rarely used his size and always shot the ball if it ended up in his hands.
Then there was the rookie all-stars, five-foot-three point-guard Karlo Villanueva and guard Sandy Brar. Villanueva spent so much time working on getting his shots over the heads of his much taller opponents and teammates, he forgot to do his homework.
Likewise with Brar, who whined all year about his lack of playing time and flunked out. You’d think he could have used the bench-warming time to pass his international economics courses.
In any event, the centre-of-attention players have packed their bags for Israel or Europe or their homes in British Columbia, and now both teams have what they think are a group of players who are committed to academics as well as winning.
Suddenly, the Rams look a lot better than previously advertised.
On the men’s side, credit goes to the coaching staff for the player’s new commitment. Head coach Terry Haggerty and assistant coach Bob Marsh have instituted a new no-nonsense policy for athletes.
“Last year you had Bill, Karlo and Sandy skipping all their classes, and we should have suspended them for it,” said Marsh. “This year the guys are all totally committed to going to class.”
Another big change is the effort players are showing on the court. Last season, both teams spent the first five minutes every game running, and then appeared to put the truck into neutral for the last 35 minutes.
Now they are running hard. So hard in fact that they wear themselves out too quickly.
The women’s team hosted their fall classic last weekend. In the opening game they beat the University of Guelph Gryphons 68-60. The Rams led for much of the game, but clearly struggled to find their legs at the end.
The Gryphons almost came back to win, but the Ryerson women kept their heads. Jen Schinnour picked up the role of leading scorer with 18 points.
The Rams lost the next two games, 82-39 to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and 61-53 to the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in the bronze medal game.
The men’s team played Western in the first game of their exhibition schedule, the men came out like a pack of wild dogs. They led by 12 points for most of the first half. The Mustangs are one of Canada’s top-ranked teams, and Ryerson was beating them at every aspect of the game. It was a tremendous display of effort from the Rams.
In the span of three seconds, Rams guard Errol Fraser scored a jumper, stole the Mustang’s inbounds pass and scored again. But then Fraser twisted his ankle. Western managed to pull the score to 40-35 by halftime.
By the 13 minute mark of the second half, the Rams lost their concentration, finesse and then the game 79-65. Jon Reid led Ryerson with 15 points.
Haggerty was furious when a time-out was called and the Rams sauntered to the bench rather than hurrying.
But give Ryerson credit. They played very well for three quarters of the game and have nowhere to go but up. They have a very talented team and if Reid, Jan-Michael Nation, Fraser, and a much improved Dwight Chambers stay healthy and the whole team is focussed, they can do a lot of damage this year.
On the men’s side, making the playoffs should not present a difficult challenge for the Rams. The merged OUA will be split into two conferences. The top six teams in each conference will make the playoffs in March.
“Frankly, my concern is not making playoffs,” said Marsh. “I just think we can do a lot better than that.”
On the women’s side, the top four teams in each conference make playoffs, which is the same as in previous years. The women have a fair chance of making the post-season if they can beat bad teams and be competitive with some of the better ones.
“Right now we’re got to work on consistency,” said guard Karina Navarro, who is returning to the team after being academically suspended two years ago.
Navaro is shaping up to be the team’s leader. Her 17 points accounted for over half of Ryerson’s points in Saturday night’s blow-out loss to UBC.
The only major problem for the women’s team right now might be their short bench. With only 11 players in Rams’ jerseys, the team is barely able to practice five-on-five.
At the weekend tournament head coach Sandra Pothier had to work with the shortest bench of the eight participating teams. If the Rams have to deal with injuries, they could quickly find themselves with only a starting five.
In any event, we may have to buy them dinner.
The Rams play exhibition games for three more weeks before opening the season at Western on Nov. 7.