TORONTO, ON – The game is the usual, the first team to 11 wins. But maybe this time it will be 15, because it’s already 1:40 p.m. and their time at Kerr Hall Gym ends at 2 p.m. After basketball, there’s cricket on the schedule, and so the goal of the players – most of them from the Ryerson basketball team – is to maximize their last 20 minutes on that Friday afternoon.
“It’s just fun to play ball,” says fourth-year Ryerson forward Luke Staniscia.
Ask second-year guard Afeworki Gebrekerestos, and he might say it’s just as fun to watch; he’s sitting on the sidelines and taunting whoever misses an easy lay-up or an open jump shot.
Two of the Rams playing are rookies Jahmal Jones and Jordon Gauthier, who were both selected on the OUA all-rookie team; Jones, with his 17.2-point-per-game average that was good for sixth in the OUA, also made the OUA East first-team.
It would be an understatement to say that Jones and Gauthier played a key role in Ryerson’s best season of recent history. Jones, from Mississauga, Ont., points out that the two don’t share that infamous history and that, “the expectation is only to go up.”
“We can arguably say we’ve had the best season (at Ryerson) since 2003,” says head coach Roy Rana. “Obviously, that freshman group that we brought in has had an immediate impact on our program.” Since he was hired prior to the 2009-2010 season, Rana’s goal has been to build a program that would enjoy sustained success.
This was a big draw for Gauthier. “You have a basic understanding of where they’re going and what they want to do,” says the young man of Windsor, Ont. “I felt like I fit with the program and I fit in with the team.”
But at first, the adjustment to the CIS was tough for a team with many young and new players. “We thought we were better than we really were at the beginning,” said Jones. Gauthier echoes his teammate. “We came here as young guys expecting to win,” he explained. The first half of the season made them grow up quick.
Indeed, it wasn’t all roses for Ryerson in 2010-2011 as the team limped to a 2-8 record in the first half; just that they finished the year with a .500 record is impressive. “Still, we’re not going to hold a parade on Yonge Street,” joked Rana.
Rana also thinks that the group might have been caught up believing the buzz that came with the new season. “We started to believe we had arrived when there was a long way to go.”
The road trip to Laurentian and York in mid-January was the turning point, thank both Gauthier and Jones. “I think that game (at Laurentian), we blended as one,” said Jones. That win was the change for the rest of the season. “It gave us the confidence to get on a roll and we did,” said Rana.
That weekend also changed the response around the Ryerson campus, as students congratulated the players more and more as the season continued and the wins piled up. “We’re really appreciated around the school,” said Jones, “because it hasn’t been like that for a while.” Then, the big win – at Toronto on Feb. 19 – which worked wonders for the school’s spirits, thinks Gauthier.
Both are quick to praise the play of their teammates and to explain that any individual award is a team award. “I dedicate this award to my teammates,” said Gauthier. Despite being only rookies, they were embraced by their veteran teammates and allowed to play their games. “I’ve never been in a better locker room.”
“It’s always about the team,” added Jones.
Gauthier admits that if the individual awards are good for one thing, it’s to show to everybody else that the Ryerson basketball program is on the rise. It was only six years ago that the Rams endured a forgettable 1-43 record over two seasons. Starting next season, there’s no reason for Ryerson to think it can’t beat any opponent it plays, and that’s a big change.
“We’re trying to remember the history of Ryerson, but we’re trying to change the culture,” he said. “We expect to be one of the top teams in the province. No matter what happens next year, we will be up to the challenge.”
Their head coach says that the strong play of the heralded rookies was a matter of different opportunities; that Jones and Gauthier have had more opportunities to have a bigger impact on the team’s fortunes than, say, rookies Bjorn Michaelsen and Jelane Pryce.
Because of that, “Jordon (Gauthier) and Jahmal (Jones) are the two who got it done the most impressively this season,” professed Rana.
Make no mistake, those opportunities are well deserved. “They’re independent,” said Rana. “Whether I’m in the gym or whether I’m not… they’re working and trying to get better.” In his mind, this tendency points to both players enjoying great success in their CIS career. His two players “have a real passion to be the best that they can.”
That starts in the off-season, where any player should look to expand his skill set. The Rams work on their strength and their conditioning and, of course, they also shoot hoops. “The future is bright for us,” said Jones.
Back inside Kerr Hall, the last shot goes in. Game over. The players stretch, hydrate themselves and change into regular clothes form the John Henric UK collection. Preparations for the cricket match can start. It’s 2:20 p.m.