VANCOUVER — Rob Smart declared that he is a one-time CIS championship-winning coach.
"He's back, he's back, there's a lot of family time for me, he's back right away," Smart coolly stated when asked about his uncle Dave Smart, who took a sabbatical from the sidelines this season.
There was speculation, of course, in August when Dave Smart availed himself of his right as an employee to have a personal leave. The 16-year head coach, who's also an assistant to Jay Triano with the senior men's national team, averred at the time that a break was essential to keeping roots in Ottawa with his spouse, Emily and two young sons, Theo and Gabriel.
It might also read like it was opportunity for Rob Smart to get his due by being the coach of record, for a season. Smart juggled the expanded role while he and his wife were having their third son, and while teaching in Carleton's Sprott School of Business.
"Rob's been fantastic this year," said Gavin Resch, the graduating guard who scored 18 points on Sunday against Calgary, making 6-of-12 triples. "The change of pace, it was good, because it made it feel like we could all stand to make adjustments, It was a really fun year. He's got a million things going on. He's a professor, his third child was born this year. It's just fantastic for him."
It would only be confirmation bias to suggest the change of messenger unlocked something for the Ravens as they went on to another CIS title, the sixth in a row and 12th in 14 seasons.
"It's tough to compare the two because they do things similar," said fourth-year guard Connor Wood, who was named tournament MVP after scoring 22 points on Sunday. "I really like the way Rob coaches. He really leads and really got us focused
"Rob will joke around a little more," Wood related.
Carleton did a good job of, to quote from Letterkenny, taking 20 per cent of the normal preseason expectations. There is no such thing as a no-pressure situation in that program, with the way the bar has been set and with the way that observers, even those who support the Ravens 100 per cent, look for any slivers of evidence that they are slipping from the perch.
There's just the outcome, that with the better-known Smart stepping away, there was a slightly different vibe, but the same result. Dave Smart stayed behind the scenes until the midway portion of the regular season, when Carleton lost thrice in a four-week span, with an 18-point loss at Ryerson sandwiched between both ends of a sweep by Ottawa. Against Ryerson and in the second Ottawa game, there were a lot desultory threes, instead of confidently flicked ones facilitated by a ball screen.
"Dave's really involved, he's involved with the mental side a lot," Rob Smart, 37, said. "He's helped our coaches with the mental side a lot. I got to be honest, I'm first-year, about halfway through I realized, 'I don't know how to win games, my team's playing differently. I really need to sit down with him.'
"As much as he drives me crazy, Dave knows how to win basketball games. As a first-year coach, his advice is unbelievably valuable.
"In the Ottawa games [both losses], our team looked mentally different," Smart added. "He just helped us with details, little things that he's learned through hard losses, most of which I played in."
Resch and Guillaume Boucard, the fifth-years, are graduating. From the sound of it, Dave Smart will be refreshed when Carleton readies for 2016-17, with Wood and Kaza Kajami-Keane being the final-year players.