Star basketball guards ponder leaving Rye

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By Steve Petrick

The men’s basketball team is at risk of losing its two best freshmen.

Guards Karlo Villanueva and Sandy Brar wouldn’t comment on how likely it is they’ll return to Ryerson next year and said they’ll have to improve their grades to be eligible to play.

“I don’t know if I’m coming back,” Villanueva said, as players scrimmaged at Kerr gym last week. “I have to step back and reevaluate things.”

Villanueva, Ryerson’s five-foot-three point guard, had a stellar rookie season, leading the OUA in assists with 106 and the team in steals with 52.

Brar, a shooting guard, was on the receiving end of a lot of Villanueva’s passes. The fellow rookie, who played with Villanueva on British Columbia’s junior team last summer, led the Rams in three-pointers, with 44, and was the team’s third leading scorer, with an average of 10.09 points per game. Both players earned spots on the OUA East Division’s all-freshman team.

But both struggled academically this year.

Brar was originally enrolled in international economics, but he transferred to public administration this semester after failing a class in December.

Villanueva didn’t comment on his academic standing, but said he’s confident he’ll be eligible for next year.

The coaching staff, however, hasn’t been impressed with his performance in class.

One day, assistant coach Bob Marsh showed up at Villanueva’s classroom and noticed he wasn’t there. Because he skipped class, the coaches didn’t let him start the next game. The school’s registrar could sideline both players indefinitely next season if their grade point averages are below a C.

Head coach Terry Haggetty said he’ll start meeting with players this week to discuss their futures with the team. He said he won’t worry about whether he has to replace the two players or not until after meeting with them individually.

“It’s very early in the process,” Haggerty said. “We have to see who’s able to be here and then go from there.”

But Marsh, the team’s recruiter, said he’s already searching for guards in case Brar and Villanueva don’t return. And he’s not happy to be in that situation.

The assistant has been trying to improve the club’s reputation since it was upset in the 2000 playoffs. After the loss, which ruined the Rams 17-3 regular-season record, Marsh vowed to only recruit players who aren’t selfish and are good students. The coaches blamed the loss on players who didn’t care about the team’s success as much as they did about landing professional contracts after the season.

Marsh thought Villanueva and Brar were model recruits. They were excellent athletes with decent grades coming out of high school. That meant they could stay on the team for four or five years and the coaches could build a dynasty around them.

“To think that I have to get a new starting point guard and [shooting] guard baffles me,” Marsh said. “But we want to keep our commitment to them. Until we see they don’t have a commitment we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Even if Brar and Villanueva are eligible to play for Ryerson next season, other factors could pull them away from the school.

The University of British Columbia would relish a chance to put Villanueva on its team.

The UBC Thunderbirds recruited him heavily last year, hoping the attention he received as a standout at his high school in nearby Richmond, B.C, would translate into huge crowds.

Playing at UBC would not only offer him a chance to play with his 21-year-old brother, who plans to suit up for the Thunderbirds next season after he graduates from the Vancouver colleges he’s currently attending, but the Vernon, B.C., native also said he’d prefer to stay with Villanueva.

“If Karlo goes, I could decide to go to,” Brar said. “I need a point guard and Karlo’s a really good point guard, so it makes a big difference.”

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