The future is now for the Rams men’s basketball team

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By Armen Zargarian

Due to the cancellation of the 2020-21 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) season, the Rams men’s basketball team hasn’t played a regular season game in over 20 months. This will change on Friday, Nov. 5 when the Rams suit up to play the Queen’s Gaels at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. 

It will be David DeAveiro’s second season as the team’s head coach and his first season where games will actually be played. Prior to coaching at Ryerson, DeAveiro was a three-time OUA East coach of the year with the University of Ottawa and won the award in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec conference with McGill University from 2014-19.

In absence of play last season, DeAveiro and the staff worked with Rams players and scouted to build the roster for this season and beyond.  

For 13 of the 19 players on the roster, it’s their first season playing a game for the Rams. To top it off, it’s the first year of a re-tooled basketball schedule. 

With all the new changes, the program’s future starts now. 

Fresh faces

Four months after being named head coach in April 2020, DeAveiro assembled the rest of his staff. The first on his list was lead assistant coach Jeremie Kayeye. 

Prior to coming to Ryerson, Kayeye was head coach and director of basketball operations with The Rise Centre Academy of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. He also coached Team Ontario to a silver medal in the 2015 Canadian Championships. 

“I wanted a young, vibrant coach that was connected to the basketball community and was going to work hard,” said DeAveiro. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of the 2020-21 OUA season, the roster that DeAveiro and Kayeye were preparing to coach never actually came together. The Rams two leading scorers from the 2019-20 season, Tevaun Kokko and Jayden Frederick, are currently pursuing professional basketball opportunities overseas. 

Basketball in Canada—and certainly in Toronto—had been stalled, which made scouting for new talent a virtual endeavour. To fit the team’s needs and judge talent, coaches’ word-of-mouth was crucial to scouting. 

The attraction of playing in Toronto’s downtown core, at a high-end facility and for a decorated head coach lured elite basketball talent. 

Originally from Burlington, Ont., Tyler Sagl and Marcus Upshaw were among the Rams recruits in 2020. Sagl, a three-point marksman coming from the National Collegiate Athletic Association division one program at Marist College, is expected to spread the floor. In addition, Upshaw will assume the reigns of the point guard position.

As the floor general, Upshaw said he’s driven to “help [the] guys out where they need and just be that on-court coach for DeAveiro.”

Another addition to the team is Eli Farrakhan, a former Wichita State University walk-on. According to DeAveiro, Farrakhan has impressed in practice thus far and the head coach envisions him as a combo guard who can play alongside Upshaw. 

Elijah Roye and Kayode Fakomi are also among the team’s new recruits, but have yet to play a regular season game. According to their head coach, Roye is still in his early stages of development. Fakomi is expected to play a pivotal role as a traditional centre. 

Freshman Aaron Rhooms is also a player to watch this year. Although just a recent high school graduate, DeAveiro said his physicality and scoring touch is game-ready.

“I’m excited to see [Rhooms] play,” said second-year forward Tom Dumont. “I think he’s going to be a really good player.” 

Together at last

The entire team didn’t come together until Labour Day weekend, which was less than eight weeks before the start of the season. 

“Any other time, they have a year or two to learn and go through the growing pains,” said DeAveiro. This year, the timeline was crunched. “We told them: ‘You don’t have two years, you have two months.’”

With an abundance of younger players and little time for integration, Dumont said team bonding is a top priority. 

“We hang out after practice and the old[er] guys are always here to help the new players,” said Dumont. He admitted that all the new faces were a little overwhelming at first.

Upshaw also mentioned the day to day growth. He said the team is learning a lot about one another and the reiterated word at practice is, “Accountability.”

Identity and style of play

Despite all the unfamiliarity and fresh start to this season, constructing the team’s identity will be the Rams biggest challenge. “It’s been a little difficult for us, trying to figure out who’s who, who can do what,” said Upshaw. 

Besides establishing roles, DeAveiro said building grit is crucial. 

“Who are we on the defensive end?” said DeAveiro. “We are nowhere close to where we need to be.” He mentioned the lack of rebounding, loose-ball recovery and charges taken in the preseason as areas that need improvement. 

DeAveiro, Upshaw and Dumont all stress that hard work is key, since an inexperienced team can’t rely on talent alone to prepare them for a deep playoff run. 

As for style of play, that’s flexible and not completely determined either, according to DeAveiro. “We’re going to play a couple different ways,” said DeAveiro. “We’ll see how we evolve.”

Schedule and expectations

The OUA basketball schedule this year is only 16 games, compared to the usual 20-plus games. The three divisions (Central, East and West) were made into only East and West and the regular season is all back-to-back games versus the same opponent. 

This is nothing new to DeAveiro, who coached the past decade in Quebec where back-to-back games were the standard. 

“The first [game] is the most important, there’s always more pressure to lose the second,” said DeAveiro on his approach to back-to-back games.

“Back-to-back games can take a toll on your body,” said Dumont. “We have to make sure we take care of our bodies.”  

DeAveiro preaches rest and recovery between games with short turnarounds. He believes the first two games of the upcoming season, against a veteran Queen’s squad, will be an excellent early test for the team. 

The head coach is taking an approach that splits the season into two parts. He boiled it down to six games before the holiday break and 10 games in 2022. 

“That gives us 10 games to be a good team heading into the playoffs,” said DeAveiro. 

In his first real season at Ryerson, DeAveiro is focused on moulding the Rams into a team that others won’t want to face in the playoffs. 

“Some teams won’t be getting any better—they’re already playing March basketball. But I know we will.”

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