By Peter Ash
After falling a game short of gaining their first national championship in school history last season, the Rams are looking to power through and make their strongest push yet.
Led by their core of seniors Ammanuel Diressa, Adika Peter-McNeilly, Juwon Grannum and Roshane Roberts, the Rams finished 2016-17 with their third consecutive 17-2 season. Ryerson would also capture the OUA championship for the second straight year after defeating the Carleton Ravens.
But just when it seemed like they were going to win their first national championship, the Rams fell short, losing to Carleton 78-69 in the U Sports championship.
It would end up being the final game for two of the four core members, with Peter-McNeilly and Grannum graduating at the end of the school year. The former has since signed professionally, while the latter has joined the Rams as an assistant coach.
“It was tough to lose those guys,” Rams coach Roy Rana said. “They brought us a tremendous amount of leadership, and they just knew what it took to win.”
Without those players, the Rams will now have to rely on Diressa and Roberts as their two biggest leaders on the court. They’ll also have 2013-14 OUA East Rookie of the Year Jean-Victor Mukama back in the lineup after he missed last season due to academic reasons.
To go along with a new and promising rookie class, the Rams look to have enough to fill all the holes that were created after losing their veteran pieces.
Rookie to look out for:
Of the Rams’ four rookies heading into 2017-18, the newest and only international recruit in the program’s history is also the most intriguing.
Seven-foot-two centre Tanor Ngom was literally Ryerson’s biggest recruit during the off-season. The 19-year-old prospect has been considered by many as a potential NBA talent, based on his size and skill level.
Grannum expects to see some good things from the Senegalese prospect.
“If they haven’t heard yet, they will soon know [who he is],” Grannum said. “He’ll bring another side of defence that we haven’t had before. We’ve always had big guys, like maybe six-foot-eight or six-foot-nine as our biggest, but never have we had this kind of presence on the court.”
Despite his expectations, Grannum understands that they’ll have to be patient with Ngom, as he is still in the developmental phase of his career.
“Even though he’s young and [is] still a work in progress—like a diamond in the rough—you can’t miss his seven-foot-two frame. He’s going to be good for us.”
What a successful 2017-18 would look like:
After winning silver at nationals in 2017, the only thing left for the Rams to do is win the 2018 national championship.
But first, they’ll have to flip the switch. The team lost their last two preseason games in the Brock tournament, falling to both the host (97-86) and Calgary (87-85 in overtime).
“We’re not where we want to be at,” said Rana. “We need to work out our issues on the court because where we are right now isn’t great.”
Rana says that he’s looking to go through a step-by-step process for his team, as they just haven’t figured things out yet.
“The league’s a hell of a lot tougher, our road is different,” Raid said. “And it’s by no means a given that we’ll get back to where we were (championship game). But, we understand that we know that we have to work hard so that we can get back to the OUA championship game, defend our title and hopefully make a run to the nationals.”
A player that should continue to open some eyes this season is sophomore Keevon Small.
The six-foot-six forward is coming off a strong rookie season, in which he averaged nine points, just over five rebounds, and two steals in 18 games.
“Obviously Manny [Diressa] and some of our other experienced players will be huge,” Rana said. “But I think [Small] is going to be a great contributor to the team.”
Last year, Small proved himself at the 2017 OUA Final 4. In the Rams’ semi-final matchup, he had 18 points on 6-9 shooting to go along with six steals. He’d follow-up that performance with four blocks in the finals.
A former rookie of the year candidate, Small will look to build on his 2016-17 performance and become a staple in the Rams’ basketball program.
“He’s a talented player,” Rana said. “I think he’s going to have a tremendous year.”