By Armen Zargarian
Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) men’s basketball program is no stranger to playing powerhouse National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams. The squad welcomes another big name—the Oregon Ducks—to the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) on Aug. 26.
It’ll be the end of a three-game slate against high-level U.S. programs, which also featured contests against Northern Illinois University and Saint Michael’s College throughout August.
“When these schools come to Canada, they recognize who they think will give them good games,” said head coach David DeAveiro. “When they choose your school and program to play, it’s pretty important.”
TMU was on the losing end of a 112-82 blowout in their pre-season opener against the Northern Illinois University Huskies earlier this month. However, the game helped bring the team closer together and started to develop their chemistry.
“It was a stepping stone, bringing us more reality of what we need to work on”
At least half a dozen team members grabbed takeout, watched game film and hung out until 4 a.m. following the contest.
“It brought us all together,” said veteran centre Liam O’Leary-Orange, who is entering his fifth-year of U Sports eligibility. “It was a stepping stone, bringing us more reality of what we need to work on.”
The late-night film session and team bonding activities paid immediate dividends in the program’s game last week against Saint Michael’s College. TMU controlled the contest and looked like they’d been playing together for years, winning 96-91 with a combined 63 points from former Carleton Raven Simon Chamberlain and third-year guard Ankit Choudhary.
“To learn you have to go through ups and downs, a lot of downs especially, to get to a great place in the future,” said fourth-year guard Jaren Jones.
The Ducks had a 20-15 overall record last season and made it to the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA’s men’s division one National Championship Tournament, known more popularly as March Madness.
Although the Ducks are crossing the border to play U Sports teams, they have strong basketball ties to the country. Canadians Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher and Chris Duarte suited up for the Ducks before making it to the NBA.
Their 2022-23 roster also features three Canadians in Ethan Butler of Toronto and Keeshawn Barthelemy and Quincy Guerrier from Montreal.
“I just can’t wait for that game, I’m on the edge of my seat right now talking about it,” said O’Leary-Orange. “It brought back memories of playing Duke.”
O’Leary-Orange and Jones are the only current TMU players on the squad that played Duke University in 2018 at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga. The event featured future top-three NBA Draft picks Zion Williamson and Toronto’s own RJ Barrett.
“In my head it’s like…if I’m guarding someone in U Sports, well, I’ve guarded Zion and RJ before, said Jones. “If I’ve guarded those guys, I can guard this guy.”
The two hope the inexperienced players will bring the same confidence as the 2018 squad.
“When they choose your school and program, its pretty important that way”
“I think it’s important for the guys to see what it’s like competing for a job,” said O’Leary-Orange. “Whether it’s basketball or not, you have to compete for what you want in life.”
Playing against NCAA schools also offers a positive benefit for players who may be on TMU’s recruitment radar. It’s also an opportunity for the university to generate more excitement around its sports teams and pack the MAC stands.
“This is something we want to do every year in terms of having these schools come to Toronto in the summer and play games against our program,” said DeAveiro. “Maybe it’s a two or three day build up before the game, maybe we tie in our camp with it. Let’s work on making it an event, there’s so much potential.”