Ben Gorham, the spectator, isn't eligible to play for Ryerson until next season. And it's a shame.

Photo: Tom Sapiano

The prodigal son ponders a return

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One of the most talented players in Ryerson basketball history may suit up again next season

By Michael Traikos

Wearing a grey T-shirt, white shorts and with a red bandanna tied around his head, Ben Gorham stands in contrast to every other blue-draped player on Ryerson’s men’s basketball team.

As Gorham takes the court for his very first practice at Ryerson since his Rams were upset in a first-round playoff game almost two years ago, the difference between himself and the other 12 players widens.

Gorham receives a pass, and the muscular shooting guard tightens his entire body as he fiercely guards the ball from the defender. Looking to his left, Gorham fake a pass just as he’s moving the rest of his 200-poiund frame towards the basket. His wavy hair trailing behind, Gorham tucks the ball as if he were a running back and banks a shot off the glass and into the net.

But Gorham’s not done. He ends the play by glaring at those who should have stopped him. With the exception of Jan-Michael Nation and Dwight Chambers, most of the Rams have never played with Gorham, and only know his name because of his past successes at the university.

Gorham grabs one of the younger player’s and points up to the only banner hanging inside Ryerson’s gym.

“See that?” Gorham asks, referring to the OUA east division championship that he helped the Rams win in his rookie season.

“Ben is a joker, so he likes to talk,” says Chambers, who has been friends with Gorham since high school. “The bonus is that he challenges guys.”

In the championship season, the Swedish-born Gorham put up over 20 points per game and was named the OUA east rookie of the year. He was also named a second-team all-star.

The next season, he continued his on-court dominance. He led the Rams to a 17-3 regular season record, and a national third-place ranking. He was named a first-team all-star that season.

Right now, Gorham isn’t practicing because he hopes to join the third place team just as they prepare for the upcoming playoffs. He’s here because head coach Terry Haggerty can’t always get enough guys to show up for Monday night practice. That and because someone has to grab the dirty towels and sweaty practice jerseys after a two-hour practice. And Gorham, who won’t be eligible to play for Ryerson until he passes his next six courses, is the right man for the job.

“Ben’s putting himself in a position that’s good for him,” says Haggerty, who heard from Gorham over the holidays that he was registering at Ryerson. “The fact that he’s back home and didn’t ask for assistance shows he’s serious about his work.”

After the team was knocked out of the playoffs by Queen’s University in his second season, Gorham immediately left Ryerson.

Not bothering to officially withdraw from his classes, the 24-year-old skipped his exams, grabbed a plane ticket to Miami and left his academic career at Ryerson behind him.

“It was a real emotional time,” says Gorham. “I flew off the handle and made a decision to leave school.”

Gorham practiced with Florida International University, where his friend goes to school, and when he got bored, flew to Italy to play in a summer basketball league. Scouted heavily by European agents, the Swedish-born Gorham applied for citizenship and is hoping to make big money playing overseas.

“The money’s great,” he says. “I got a friend playing in France who gets $100,000.”

Ben Gorham practice

Gorham at Monday’s practice, with coach Haggerty watching carefully. Photo: Paul Baik

But Gorham has yet to be approved for a citizenship, so he’s back at Ryerson’s studying politics and public administration. He still has three years left in his OUA eligibility and could fill the scoring void left when OUA all-star Jan-Michael Nation finishes his five-year eligibility at the end of the season.

“I think he’ll be good in the sense that it’ll be a good nucleus,” says Nation, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “The chemistry will be a lot better, but it really depends on who’s back.”

Gorham says he’s never stopped being a Rams fan, but he will only play here if he’s not approved for a European passport. This season, he’s been a regular fixture at Ryerson home games, watching the team’s performance from the bleachers.

But after the holidays, Gorham was invited to sit with the team and act as team manager, tabling stats and sharing his basketball knowledge and experience.

“Everything he tells you helps you out,” says Chambers. “It would be nice to be in the same [situation] as we were two years ago.”

Watching this year’s Rams practice, Gorham admits it’d be nice to wear blue and gold again.

“I miss being here,” he says. “I would love to play with these guys.”

On the court, Gorham slumps over, with his head down and his hands resting on his knees. His first practice is exhausting him, but instead of taking it easy and slowing down, Gorham continues to push himself.

“I feel like Michael Jordan,” jokes Gorham, who says he’s only a month away from being 100 per cent.

“My level of play now is 30 to 40 per cent higher than when I was here two years ago,” he said. “Back then, I was just playing. Now I’ve got composure and I’m more mature as a player.”

Whether or not Ryerson gets a second-coming of one of its most exciting basketball players is really up to just one person. Gorham says he hasn’t made up his mind if he wants to play another year of university ball or, if he gets the green light to play in Europe, go and start a new legacy in another country.

“There’s still a lot of things I have to consider,” he said. “Everything’s up in the air right now.”

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