By Chris Blanchette
Aaron Best raised his arms as the buzzer rang throughout the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
This time, not for a game-winning shot, or the three-point shot for which he has become so known, but to celebrate history — a milestone in his five-year career as a member of the Ryerson men’s basketball team.
As the Rams exited the court, embracing one another, it became clear that this was not just another season for a Ryerson program that had spent its first 25 years unable to reach double-digits in the wins column.
And with the CIS confirming Tuesday the Rams are ranked as the best team in the country, emotions are high.
As Best held his arms high in the foreground of a gym, lit brightly by a scoreboard that read Ryerson: 87 – Ottawa: 80, it felt for the first time that this team really had proven last year’s success was no fluke.
That if anything, the third-place finish in the CIS championships was a sign of better things to come.
“We’re not content. Our goal isn’t to be number one, it’s to stay number one and win a national championship,” said Ryerson forward, Jean-Victor Mukama, who was responsible for the game sealing steal in Ryerson’s win over Ottawa.
Ryerson made a statement by taking down the second-ranked Carleton Ravens for the first time since the 2000 season, defeating the first place Ottawa Gee-Gees the next night.
When the final buzzer had sounded and Drake’s “Back-to-Back” boomed over the gym speakers, those first 25 years of suffering could not have felt more distant.
However, in order to acknowledge last weekend’s success, the preseason questions that surrounded the team must be acknowledged as well.
Back in August, Ryerson head coach Roy Rana announced that he would be taking a sabbatical from the team for the 2015-16 season.
This meant that Patrick Tatham, who had been on the Rams’ coaching staff since 2011, would assume Rana’s old duties and become interim head coach.
On top of the coaching change, the Rams also lost key players in Jahmal Jones, Jordon Gauthier, Bjorn Michaelsen and Kadeem Green.
Despite the third-place CIS finish a year prior (the best in school history), Ryerson headed into the preseason and new year with an interim head coach, a crop of untested talent and a medley of questions that would need to be answered with important roles to fill.
In Ryerson’s OUA home opener, they narrowly defeated the University of Toronto thanks to a buzzer beating layup by Juwon Grannum. Despite a shaky start to the season, Tatham was nothing short of confident in his team.
“I don’t want to place any expectations on this team as far as championships go, but I can tell you that this team is definitely champion- ship caliber,” Tatham said in November, after the home opener.
The Rams went on to finish the first half of the season with a 4-1 record, their only loss coming at the hands of the Windsor Lancers.
The second half of the season has seen the Rams rattle off four-straight wins. On top of the wins against Carleton and Ottawa, they have also defeated Queen’s, which allowed them to gain sole possession of first in the OUA East.
A big help in these wins has been the return of big men Adam Voll and Green — who originally opted not to play this season but missed the sport and returned to the team a week ago. Their presence has aided the Rams inside, both in scoring and rim protection.
Ryerson is playing its best basketball of the season and as for where the team is headed, it seems that Tatham’s preseason predictions were accurate.
“I told him (Rana) that this was going to be a pretty good team. It was just a matter of getting the young guys to play the Ryerson way,” said Tatham.
In their next game the Rams will get another shot at third-ranked Brock on Feb. 3, who they lost 92-83 to in the preseason.
In addition to this season’s success, it seems they are already finding a way to build towards the future. The Rams recently landed the Waterloo Warriors transfer Myles Charvis. According to Ta- tham, it was Charvis who reached out to Ryerson after Rana decided to go on sabbatical.
Tatham said that Ryerson shied away from Charvis when he was still in high school because guard and recent graduate Jahmal Jones was still in his third year.
Charvis averaged 20.3 points per game over 20 games in 2014-15 for Waterloo. He’s a solid scorer with three years of eligibility left and will add even more depth to the Ryerson bench.
“He (Miles) had said yes long before this all happened,” Tatham said. “He reached out to us after Roy mentioned leaving. The whole thing was sporadic really.”
While seemingly a simple gesture, Best raising his arms encapsulates a quarter century of sweat and struggle. And as the collective Rams fanbase cheers on arguably the best team the program has ever seen, it’s important to note that what they make look easy takes hours of dedicated repetition.
And riding high as only the best team in the country can, the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team will now turn their sights to the the pinnical of their sport — a national championship.