By Tyler Harper
Basketball is Arsalan Jamil’s life.
“The court is the world to me,” he says. “Everything I do is related to basketball.”
That would sound cliché if he wasn’t sincere. Jamil, in his rookie season playing point guard with the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team, is not a star player. He never played in high school. He hasn’t received any athletic scholarships. In all likelihood, he probably won’t play on the court more than two or three minutes the entire season.
He wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t care if I get minutes. Sitting on the bench still makes me part of the team.”
Earning a spot on the bench was a challenge in itself. Standing at a mere 5-foot-7 and weighing only 138 pounds, Jamil tried and failed twice to make the team through open try-outs.
“I was horrible,” he says. “I couldn’t play the game.”
Determined, Jamil started practicing on his own whenever he could, often running to the gym in the 10 minute slot between classes just to slip in a few shots. “It got to the point where I wouldn’t go to class. I would go straight to the RAC.”
Now in the fifth and final year of his program, years of relentless practice have paid off.
Jamil making this year’s team is even more unlikely considering how rare it is for players to survive the cut through open try-outs. Rosters are often set prior to try-outs, as coaches spend most of their off-season recruiting top level high school talent.
Jamil was in the right place at the right time when head coach Glenn Taylor needed an extra point guard.
“It was a very opportune time,” says Taylor. “A lot of kids recruited decided to go back to high school.”
Jamil made an early impression on the Ryerson coach.
“Jamil came up to me after I selected him and said, ‘You’re my very first coach,’” Taylor says.
“It reminded me of my days when I coached junior high.” Jamil says he still would have wanted to learn if he hadn’t been picked.
“Even if he didn’t pick me up for the team, I would ask him to let me come to the practices just so I can get better.”
Fellow point guard and third-year business management student Sanel Sehic says Jamil’s biggest asset is his work ethic. “He’s like a little kid in kindergarten trying to skip grades. Little by little it’s going to come.”
Six years ago, Jamil had never even heard of basketball.
The 22 year-old computer engineering student immigrated from Pakistan to Canada having only played cricket. It wasn’t until he enrolled at Ryerson that basketball caught his interest.
“When I came to Canada I couldn’t have a conversation. Basketball taught me English. It taught me to socialize with people.”
Sitting on the bench during Saturday’s game against the Dalhousie Tigers, Jamil anxiously follows the play and chants support at his team. When Taylor calls a time out, Jamil disappears in the middle of the huddle surrounded by players over a foot taller than him. He looks over Taylor’s shoulder carefully studying the coach’s instructions.
“He’s got quick feet. His ability to play defence is very good. There are some things he has to learn obviously,” Taylor says.
Jamil has no illusions about his current role. “I have to make myself a name on this team,” says Jamil. “As soon as I do something wrong, I’m gone. I have to be 100 per cent errorless.”
Last week, Jamil quit his job with Celestica, an engineering company, just so he could devote more time to basketball. Infectiously optimistic about being on the team, he is already thinking about spending another two years at Ryerson and enrolling in the MBA program if the team will have him back.
“Basketball is going to get me everything I want in life,” he says. “I believe I can get anywhere if I came this far.”