Basketball finds new stars

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The Ryerson Rams basketball teams have seen better days. The women went 9 and 15 this season, while the men went winless in 22 games. The organizers, coaches, players and fans all agree on one thing – Ryerson basketball is in dire need of recruitment.

The first stage of any recruitment plan is identification. Ryerson coaches look for athletes as young as six years old at club championships and high school tournaments. If a promising player interests them, coaches decide if the school and the player are a good fit. They keep tabs on the athlete throughout the years, chatting with their coaches at games, contacting them via e-mail or phone, and sending them information packages.

Eventually, the coach will set up a home visit to meet the players’ parents and discuss the academic programs that appeal to the player. Recruits are invited to visit the campus, meet the players and staff, and see a basketball game.

“Basically it’s a sales job,” says David Dubois, who is Ryerson’s athletic director.

According to interuniversity sports director Terry Haggerty, the basketball program receives $5,000 for recruitment. The budget includes part-time coach salaries, hotel rooms, and travel expenses.

Head coach Patrick Williams and his assistant O’Neil Kamaka, began identifying potential players in August. Williams connects with coaches and parents to build a real relationship with the athlete.

“It’s a line of respect through the individuals important to the player,” he says.

Williams and Kamaka now have at least 100 players on their prospect list, including Geoff Proctor, a guard for the Bruins at Sheridan College. If the business management student from Mississauga keeps his GPA above 3.0 this semester, he’s in. Although not as athletic as leading scorer Errol Fraser – one of at least three Rams leaving the team this year – Proctor has a high basketball IQ.

“He’s a very smart player,” says Kamaka. “Just watching him play, you can tell he understands the game. He’ll be a big help to the program and will contribute greatly with his shooting and ability to take it off the dribble. We’re ecstatic to have him.”

Ideally, the coaches want 15 players on next year’s team; three players for each position.

“That way we get competition,” says Kamaka. “When you’re not looking over your shoulder you kind of get complacent and you really want to play. It forces you to work hard.”

But being a great player is not enough. “We want students with good character. These are the kind of citizens we want our players to be, to portray men’s basketball here at Ryerson,” he says.

Williams agrees. “We want great, wonderful people who work hard and work smart,” he says.

The head coach of the women’s team, Sandy Pothier faces some tough times ahead.

Tamara Alleyne-Gittens, Ashley Keohan, and Stephanie Hart are graduating this year, and two other players are struggling academically.

Pothier is searching for five or six new players, particularly a point guard, a shooting guard and a post. But she still doesn’t have any definites.

“I’m a little worried,” Pothier says. “Joanne Him is the three point shooter I need to replace Stephanie, but she needs to get her application in. We really like Angie Knoebelreiter – she’s the best one in the whole area and she’d be outstanding – but she’s a little ambivalent about playing next year. And Christine Lovell, a six-foot-two post from the Mississauga area, is at Sheridan College right now but she’s not playing this year.”

Whereas American schools offer athletic scholarships to recruits, such awards are non-existent in Ontario. Students are offered admission based strictly on academics, but varsity athletes with good academic standing can receive awards in subsequent years.

Last year, Ryerson granted $1,000 to 25 athletes with a GPA of at least 2.67. Athletes with GPA’s of at least 3.50 can get $1,500 after their first year.

“You don’t get in here unless you have the proper requirements. There’s no special favours. I’m not going to let in some slug who doesn’t have the right qualifications,” says Pothier.

Dubois agrees. “There’s no monetary benefit for coming here. There’s a benefit for becoming a varsity athlete but it’s more academic,” he says.

When Williams recruits a potential player, the first question he asks is, “Do you want to go to university?”

He knows that some players go to school to play ball, but he also knows some things are more important.

“Whether you’re a student-athlete or an athlete-student, you need to balance sports and academics across the board,” says Williams.

“We definitely put education first,” adds Kamaka.

“If you’re playing on our team during the season and you’re struggling with school, forget basketball, take care of school first and then come back to basketball.”

The women’s coach feels the same way. “The bottom line is basketball is something you do that you love and you have a passion for, but your school is your career and your livelihood,” says Pothier.

Dubois wants to build the men’s basketball team around their core rookies, Igor Bakovic, Peeter Veltmann, and Sharif Shehata.

Although Williams says it will take a full year for the recruitment cycle to work the way he wants it, Dubois is optimistic.

“We’re going to do quite well next season,” he says.

Even though the dismal record is still fresh in his mind, Kamaka is not discouraged.

“I’ve never in my life, playing or coaching, experienced such a horrible record,” he says.

“It was very tough because most of our games were close, but we just could not pull out the win. Next year will be a lot better. That’s why we’re recruiting so heavily now. As long as Williams is the head coach, we’re not going to be 0-22 again in the regular season. That will not happen again, I guarantee it.”

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