With an injured roster and an undersized frontcourt, men’s basketball head coach Roy Rana faces one of the toughest challenges of his coaching career — getting the Rams into the post-season. Gabriel Lee reports
As Roy Rana sits in his office staring blankly at the men’s basketball team’s depleted roster, the head coach can’t help but wonder what his season could have looked like if his frontcourt was healthy and he had more experienced big men on the court.
With their entire frontcourt decimated by injuries, the Rams are hoping to limp their way to a playoff berth. But that’s easier said then done.
“This is by far the most injury plagued season I’ve coached at any level,” Rana said. “I’ve never ever experienced anything like this as a coach. Three out of our five front court players are currently unavailable.”
Third-year forward Khris Montague, who has been the Rams’ starting centre for most of the season, has been plagued with a chronic back injury, while second-year forward Matt Lapointe has been limited by a sprained ankle for the past few weeks.
While both Montague and Lapointe are six foot six inches and six foot eight inches respectively the loss of highly touted six foot seven rookie forward Bjorn Michaelsen has hurt the Rams the most.
Michaelson, has suffered not one but two major injures this season, the first being a broken bone, where he lost three teeth in the process, and the second being a broken hand he suffered in a matchup against Carleton University. He was supposed to be an integral player for the Rams at both ends of the court.
“Injuries really just decimated the group,” Rana said. “I think part of it was because of the pressure to be successful. Mentally it’s been tough for this young group to be able to handle the adversity.”
The expectations for the Rams were higher than ever after they posted a 7-3 preseason record and Rana believes the high expectations and the injuries are partially to blame for their unimpressive 4-8 record. The Rams began getting some healthy bodies back into the starting lineup over the Christmas break and their second place finish at the Ryerson Invitational Tournament in December proved that. But just when the Rams thought they were taking a step in the right direction again, Michaelsen’s injury sent them two steps back.
“Obviously the injuries have been hard to deal with,” said fifth-year guard and co-captain Ryan McNeilly. “The younger guys have to perform now as opposed to [waiting to] get accustomed to the league. They’ll have to get used to this level quicker than usual.”
Because of the slew of injuries that has hit the Rams this season, Rana has implemented a few changes in his game plan in order to compensate for the team’s lack of size.
“In the first half… we went into more of a motion offense off the dribble [and] defensively we played a zone to mask our deficiencies,” explained Rana. “Even though our personnel is limited but our focus is on trying to continue to grow … developing great habits offensively and defensively.”
Another change that has been brought about by the injuries is that some players are now having to play out of their natural positions. Jelane Pryce, a rookie small forward, has shifted over to play power forward, while rookie guard Jordon Gauthier has spent some time in the post.
“We’re not really going to change tactically what we do, we’re just going to plug in new players and have them learn that part of the system,” Rana said.
Dealing with injuries has been an issue at practise for the Rams, as they are unable to simulate real game situations with the limited amount of healthy bodies at their disposal. But the one positive Rana sees in these injuries is the fact that it is accelerating the maturation of this young Rams team.
Because of the team’s injuries, Eric Hobson, the team’s youngest player, has been forced to play more minutes than was originally expected of him.
“[The injuries] have been difficult for the team. I don’t know if I’m ready yet but I’m definitely getting towards it,” he said. “I haven’t played much in the CIS but as a first year I just want to work hard in practice.”
After snapping a four game losing streak by grinding out narrow victories over Laurentian and Guelph, 91-86 and 73-72 respectively, the Rams look to build on their two game winning streak as they are set to return to Kerr Hall for a five game home stand beginning this Friday night against Queen’s.
Photo: Lindsay Boeckl