TORONTO–It’s hypnotizing, and it’s because of the sounds. Vomp. Swish. Clank. Squeak. The gym inside York University’s Tait McKenzie Centre is empty except for four people.
Lions forward Nick Tufegdzich is at one basket practicing post moves, while upcoming rookie Daniel Levy and ex-Lions Tut Ruach and David Tyndale are practicing jumpers at the other end. Tyndale tells NPH that they started these workouts after his rookie season four years ago. “Right now, it’s every day,” he says, “pretty much five days a week. We’ll be shooting, ball-handling, working out.”
The three players, one of them a new recruit for head coach Tom Oliveri’s York Lions team, and the other two professionals, are shooting jumpers, lots of them, from inside the 3-point line. Most of the shots fall, so there’s no need for someone to rebound—and they’re using “The Gun,” a machine that uses nets to load basketballs and make passes at whichever interval you want them.
The Gun also keeps track of makes and misses; Ruach and Tyndale hope to make at least 80 percent of their shots for every workout. “We’re professionals, so that’s the minimum,” Ruach says. “In games, it’s going to plummet, so it has to be at least that here, in practice.”
It’s hypnotizing–the gym is so quiet otherwise. It’s the same gym where the two ex-CIS players have taken and made so many jumpers already, paving the way for their career highlights. There’s Tyndale’s ill-advised-but-buried pull-up jumper on a 2-on-1 at the end of a playoffs game in Ryerson’s Kerr Hall Gym during his rookie season and Ruach’s final season. There’s also Ruach’s buzzer-beating shot at Laurentian to win the game during his rookie season, where he and his entire team ran off the court in chaos and celebration. All of it points back to this–workouts inside this gym.
Ruach and Tyndale have been connected since they were young, attending the same high school, then the same university, all the while accomplishing some of the same feats and being recognized for many of the same awards. Right now, they’re trying to become pros together. “They have their regimen,” Oliveri says, “and they continue to do what they’ve done their whole careers, and that’s just putting the time and effort to get individually better.”
Details on their careers will come but for now, it’s only noises. It’s only vomps for every pass from “the Gun,” swishes when the shots fall, clanks when they don’t, and the squeaking of shoes.
Ruach and Tyndale have completed successful CIS careers with the York Lions, the former graduating after the 2008-2009 season and the latter just a few months ago. They’re both great at basketball, and this workout is the secret to their trade—they practice, both hard and often.
Tyndale is a 24-year-old from Mississauga and played his last CIS game on Feb. 20, 2013, in an 83-77 playoff loss against the Ryerson Rams. Though heavy underdogs (i.e. York entering the game with an 8-12 record and Ryerson at 15-5), the outcome wasn’t known until the last two minutes.
The Lions were overmatched, but found a way through determination, character and will. Like their point guard, the team understood that nothing is handed to them in the CIS and that the players need to go out and get it—and they almost did just that against Ryerson.
After the game, Tufegdzich remembers that it was odd inside the locker room. “When we first got in the locker room, guys were just sitting and taking it in,” he says. “Finally, (Tyndale) got up in front of us and gave his speech…I’ve known David for a while and, he plays with his heart. And that’s what he gave, a speech from his heart.”
With this game, and this speech, Tyndale’s CIS career had come to a close. “I cried, I cried a lot,” he recalls. By most indications, it’s a successful career, one where he accomplished most of what Ruach had before him—a co-captain, a two-time all-star and the team leader in most statistical categories for most of his time at York. “In the end, it’s the transformation of his game into a pure point guard,” Oliveri says. “That, to me, is what stands out.”
And it all comes from what Ruach has meant to Tyndale. In a York University video posted on YouTube, he mentions that Ruach is his idol. “He probably wouldn’t know that, but a lot of the moves that he does, I have tried to do them,” the 24-year-old says.
At this point in the offseason, it’s still unclear where/if the 5-foot-11 point guard will play next season. He remains uncommitted—“I’ve talked to a few people…If I’m getting any kind of currency to play basketball,” he says, “then that’s fine by me, because I’ve played for free my whole life.”
Ruach is currently paid to play basketball, has been for three years now. His dream is to play in the NBA—“all I need is an opportunity,” he says—and that dream remains though he’s now 28 years old. “Of course, that’s the ultimate goal always,” he says. “If that’s not my goal, then I should just stop playing.”
So Ruach continues to play, because he still has that goal. This past season, he was the eighth-leading scorer in Sweden’s Basketligan with 17.3 points per game for Nässjö Basket. He’s taller than Tyndale at six-foot-two, and this stint in Sweden came after one year in Germany with Itzehoe and another with the Oshawa Power of Canada’s National Basketball League.
His contract in Sweden was for one season and like Tyndale, Ruach doesn’t yet know where he will play next season. Matt Slan, from the Slan Sports Agency that has represented Ruach for his previous two contracts, says it’s still early. Slan raves about Ruach. “Tut was a standout CIS player, and it’s something we were looking for at the time,” he says.
“Really, we haven’t done much. Tut has paved his way…No agent is responsible solely for getting his players other jobs. If a guy performs, I’m getting calls about him. Tut’s career buzzing right now is more about him than it is about us.”
When Ruach thinks back to his first game as a professional player, he says that he might have been a little nervous. “I had a bad first half,” he says. “I told my coach, ‘Well, I guess I am nervous, then. This is my first time playing pro.’ My coach answered, ‘Why are you nervous? You’re better than everyone on the court.’…He calmed me down, because I was nervous. I didn’t even realize it though.”
Overseas, Ruach says that he’s witnessed a lack of recognition for the level of basketball played in Canada. He explains that often, he’s had to clarify just what the CIS is.
“Where I’m at now, you can see the difference in perception of where you played in college,” Ruach says. “If they see (Canada) on paper, they automatically see you as not equal to someone who played Division I…Canada is getting a lot of recognition and respect, because of what Canadians are doing (in the States), but the CIS doesn’t get that respect.”
They’re doing dribbling skills now—two balls at once, with various combinations of stops, crossovers and change of directions. As with other drills, Levy, the rookie, is following Tyndale’s and Ruach’s lead, just like Oliveri would have it.
Ruach left York after a 2008-2009 season where he shared the floor with Tyndale. “The Tut who finished at York was a lot different than the Tut who started at York,” Oliveri says. “We had a young point guard from Mississauga who was still trying to figure out the position, and he had a great, great rookie year.”
With 12.6 points per game during that season in 2005, Ruach was selected as OUA rookie of the year. Tyndale, four years later, would receive the same distinction with 15.1 points per game—though Ruach actually was the CIS choice for rookie of the year as well while Tyndale wasn’t.
Ruach was also named to three OUA East all-star teams. Both took Kinesiology & Health Science at York (Ruach after transferring into the program), and Tyndale will be the first to admit that the decisive factor in him attending the school was the chance to play with Ruach one season. “Obviously I had a good relationship with Tom Oliveri,” Tyndale says, “but the fact that (Ruach) came was an incentive. If he had left and went to the United States, I would have done the same thing.”
Before playing for York University, both attended Father Michael Goetz Secondary School. Ray Kulig coached them both and retired when Tyndale (and teammate Andrew Nicholson, now with the Orlando Magic) graduated. He remembers some similarities: their intelligence—“both their basketball IQ and in the classroom”; and their dedication—“they were the ones you always had to kick out of the gym.” He says that both players believed in putting the team first, too. “They would sacrifice personal statistics or performances,” explained Kulig. “They wanted the team to win.”
He says that they both had “incredible” leadership skills, preaching to their teammates to focus, but that they went about it differently. “Instead of the calming confidence that Ruach would preach,” he says, “Tyndale would preach energy.”
He has one word to describe both of their styles of play. Ruach is concise, in the sense that he’ll attack, take a jumper or pass to an open shooter, all depending on what the defense does. He is a gifted scorer who doesn’t panic or waste any movements or efforts, because there’s no need for that. Ruach has patient eyes, and not everyone does.
Tyndale is precise. He’s a gifted scorer too, and he breaks down his man step by step. He’ll dictate to the man guarding him how a play unfolds and he’s confident that it’s a matter of time before he gets to do what he wants—and because he’s explosive and full of energy, he usually can.
After high school, Ruach and Tyndale decided to go to York University, staying in Canada, over American offers. “We were overlooked a lot, because we were extremely underrated,” Tyndale says. With a stellar CIS career behind them, it’s difficult to argue that they didn’t make the right decision—and especially so if Tyndale manages to play professional basketball just like Ruach did after he graduated.
Still, they leave behind a legacy of excellence at the point guard position with the York Lions, but Ruach quickly notes that he and Tyndale weren’t the first in line. York has been able to rely on excellent point guard play for about 20 years, yet the team enters this season with uncertainty at the position. Oliveri explains that there are a few candidates, but that it’s still early. “We believe in the players we have,” he says. “We’re not continually trying to bring in four new players at the position.” As for Tyndale and Ruach, Oliveri says that they embodied what it means to be a York Lions.
“Work harder than who works the hardest,” just like what Tyndale told his teammates inside the locker room after his final CIS game. The two are part of the York family, and perhaps that’s why they both fit so well at the university—Kulig remembers that, “Family meant a lot to both players and really anchored them.”
Tyndale, Ruach and Levy are now shooting threes. After two hours and 906 shots, they’re done. The three of them have made 615, good for 68 percent. “That’s bad,” Ruach says. Just then, Tyndale pulls out his cellphone to show a photo of one workout where they made 85 percent of their shots.
That means that there’s still plenty more work ahead. They’re getting better, together, dribble after dribble after dribble, and jumpshot after jumpshot after jumpshot.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG & NPH @Northpolehoops