Bill Walton entered and left the stage with the singing of “Oh Canada.”
Although the NBA Hall of Famer was a little off on the lyrics, his efforts were appreciated and applauded at the CIS Final 8 kick off.
Walton was a special guest speaker at Ryerson University, where he shared multiple stories on camaraderie, passion and the opportunity that comes with being a part of a national championship tournament.
Toronto will host the Canadian university championships for the first time in the tournament’s existence (1964).
Timing is everything, and the time is now.
Toronto basketball is taking off at the amateur levels, the Ryerson Rams are near the top of the charts and oh yea, the Raptors are rollin.’
First impressions are a big deal and collectively, the CIS and host Ryerson University aim to make the 2015 Final 8 a memorable experience for all in attendance.
The CIS has ambitions of raising the bar, according to CEO Pierre LaFontaine.
“We can’t be the same, we have to change in the CIS,” he explained.
“I can tell you that what’s going to happen here is, we’re going to set the bar for a national championship in all sports to a level that’s going to challenge all other universities when they host a national championship.”
March 12-15 will bring the country’s top eight university team’s to the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
“If we’re not in the battle to beat each other, we’re not in the battle of improvement,” continued LaFontaine.
Roy Rana, Rams Head Coach also took the stage, addressing media and Ryerson faithful.
“When I took this job six years ago…I tried to engage the community a bit and talk about what our vision is for this program.”
Rana has been able to gradually elevate the program year by year, while making Ryerson basketball relevant on the national scene.
When accepting the position as Rams Head Coach, Rana knew about the school’s potential, describing the university as very unique.
“A jewel in the cities crown, and I want to put some shine on it, those were my exact words,” said Rana.
Now the #3-ranked team in the country will have an opportunity to take centre stage at home–a squad with strong depth and experience.
“I think we have a really exciting team, one that has a legitimate shot to win it,” Rana told North Pole Hoops.
“This is the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here. Our early results are encouraging but the real tests are coming. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity for March.”
With this national championship held in the big city, basketball fans of all ages will have an opportunity to learn about CIS basketball.
“We want to Inspire young athletes to understand the quality of basketball that’s being played at this level, it’s really undervalued,” said Rana.
Raptors personality Paul Jones MC’d the kick off; Jones was a four-time participant of the Canadian University national championship with the York Lions in the late seventies.
Jones spoke on the thriving basketball community in Toronto as of late, and how it will benefit the CIS Final 8.
“I don’t know if it would have flown in Toronto in previous years. But with the ground swell of grassroots basketball in this Toronto area–Wiggins, Bennett, Thompson, Joseph- all these kids are a stones throw away…the game is growing.”
According to Jones, the level of talent in the CIS has improved considerably over the last 10-15 years.
“Toronto is ready for it now, and it’s a great tournament. Canadian University basketball is one of the best kept secrets.”