By Will Baldwin
When the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team officially tips off their season on Oct. 24 against the York Lions at home, things will look very different.
For starters, the most obvious change is the head coach.
After nine seasons—spanning 10 years—Roy Rana has moved on from Ryerson to become an assistant coach for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
Rana’s time at Ryerson can only be described as historic. He turned the program into a perennial national contender, boasting a 137-55 record and led the team to five consecutive U SPORTS Final 8 appearances and five medals.
Replacing Rana is the Rams’ associate head coach Borko Popic. Before joining the coaching staff in 2016, Popic served as an assistant at Wilfred Laurier University and provided video and data analysis for Canada’s Senior Men’s National team during the 2016 FIBA Olympic qualifiers.
“We’re in good hands,” said Rams forward Keevon Small. “Whatever Rana brought in, Borko is doing the exact same thing except putting a little Borko spice into it.”
Popic is now the 13th head coach in program history and is looking forward to what’s to come in his new role.
“I have the utmost respect for coach Rana,” said Popic. “But I’m not trying to be somebody else, so my style is definitely different.”
Massive changes are also taking place within the makeup of the roster with ten new faces expected to feature on this year’s squad, said Popic.
Most notable among the new additions is Laurier transfer guard Tevaun Kokko, who played two seasons with the Golden Hawks. Kokko became a two-time, second-team All-Ontario University Athletics (OUA) recipient.
The Rams will look to have Kokko replace their graduating point guard and last year’s team MVP Myles Charvis, who finished his Ryerson career second in program history in assists and eighth in steals.
Also departing after five seasons are forwards Jean-Victor Mukama and Filip Vujadinovic.
Mukama led the team in scoring last season, averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds on 38.1 shooting from beyond the arc while being named a U SPORTS second-team All-Canadian.
Vujadinovic leaves Ryerson as the most decorated player, medalling in each of his five years while ranking top 10 in games played in men’s basketball history.
With the three gone, Ryerson will be looking at other offensive weapons to emerge as Charvis, Mukama and Vujadinovic combined for 45.3 of Ryerson’s 86.7 points per game last season, which was good for second in the OUA.
On the outside looking in, the experience could be an issue for this team, but fourth-year guard Jayden Frederick doesn’t seem too concerned about that.
“We’re very unselfish and that’s deadly on any team,” said Frederick. “I think we still have an amazing team that will be as good as last year, if not better.”
Frederick is expected to step into a much larger role offensively than he was last season, averaging 10.9 points. But if you ask him, this team will be defined by a lot more than one person’s individual skill set.
“We have so many guys that can score the ball and do special things with it,” said Frederick. “Everyone’s going to get involved in the game. We’ll be an exciting team.”
Though offence is the prime focus coming into the season, their defence has served as the foundation of this program for years—evidenced once again by the 63.4 points allowed per game last season, ranked second in the OUA.
The anchor of that defence will be none other than Rams forward Tanor Ngom. After an eventful summer spent entering the NBA Draft process and working out with the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors, Ngom starts his third season and what’s expected to be his final year at Ryerson.
Ngom will need take his game to the next level for the Rams to remain elite.
Also, look for second-year guard Jaren Jones to take a big leap in his development. Jones showed great potential last season, especially defensively, and will be expected to step into a much larger role.
Other additions to the roster include Jalen Butler, a transfer from the Southern New Hampshire University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Two players that redshirted last season, forward Brandon Ramirez and guard Jaaden Lewis, will also be looked for production and are considered valuable pieces to the makeup of this team. Lewis hasn’t been available yet this season due to an injury.
Even though change may be the biggest concern for this team, Popic is taking it all in stride and seeing it as a positive thing.
“We evolve with the talent,” said Popic. “We’re trying to grow and change for the better.”
One thing is clear though, despite all the changes, the Rams are still equipped to compete once again for an OUA title and the programs first national title.
For Popic though, it’s still all about the process.
“It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and take more responsibility,” said Popic. “We’re just trying to get better every day.”