#CISFinal8: Ryerson's bronze part of learning to take their show on the road

VANCOUVER — The bronze medal is same old-same old for the Ryerson Rams, although the new exposure to a far-from-home Final 8 is new and needed.

Exposure is something far more vital in the clinical sense, but put toward this competitive endeavour, it means a group learning something new together that it needs its repertoire. The Rams reflect the basketball talent in Toronto, the generation who grew up never knowing the region not having a NBA team, and who had coaches to push them along. The Rams have that cluster effect, feeding to a football-free school with ideal basketball facilities.

They are as Toronto as a TTC shutdown during morning rush. Torontonians, though, sometimes forget how the rest of Canada lives. Travelling some 3,000 km to play nationals, point being, should do a lot for a group. The reality is that is Ryerson is going to deliver on the work Roy Rana started and one day win a CIS title, it will have to do it on the floor in Halifax or Ottawa, for instance.

"Bonding, and having the mentality of we're on the road and have to get this done, is going to help us learn how to get these wins," fourth-year guard Adika Peter-McNeilly said after Ryerson's 85-78 bronze-medal win against the Dalhousie Tigers on Sunday.

The Rams, who are bidding adieu to five-year guard Aaron Best, 6-foot-9 rim-protecting forward Kadeem Green, and backup guard Andy Agyepong, have a nice line of succession set up. Eleven players still have at least two years left, while McNeilly, 6-7 forward Juwon Grannum and 6-3 backup guard Derrick Allahyarian are on track to the trio of fifth-year seniors.

"Coming out to B.C., this weekend was great for the guys," said Ryerson interim coach Patrick Tatham, who also touched on the Rams' coaching question.

"I feel like I am five years ahead of my time right now, It's great, I am a student of the game just like the guys and hopefully, if the future's bright, I take over my own program. If not, I'm content to be an assistant to Roy."

Against Dalhouise, Ryerson started springy 6-foot-6 guard Filip Vujadinvoc, and relied on the fellow third-year guard, 6-8 Jean-Victor Mukama, to pick up extra work. A third third-year who's in line for a lead role, 6-8 forward Adam Voll, played through a form of pneumonia and big-manned his way to nine points, eight rebounds and three assists over 16 minutes.

"I was smiling on the inside," said Tatham, who played inside in his career. "We've been waiting to see that from Adam."

(Brief digression: the way to get much out of a Final 8, not that the quick hit-hungry, churn-and-spitters poking for a fiery quote in order to tell they story they cannot tell, is to spin a team's result into a larger narrative. That kind of comes back to three cliché sports tropes that are showing their age.

  • The idea that a one-off, a best-of-one result wrecks a whole season. Perhaps so for, say, the 1978 Boston Red Sox it did.  It is just generational, being more rational, so it would seem.

    "I don't think the guys have anything to be disappointed about," was how Tatham summed up the Calgary game on Saturday. "Yes, it was close game, Yes – we played from behind and played in a hole. Give it up to Calgary – twelve threes to our six, and they won by 11 points.

    "We made some history at the school and the success is still high."

    Bam, there's your explanation.
  • Hoping for teary losers. Millennial athletes are often stereotyped for having less passion than their Old White Man Says-genre predecessors. That's a misdiagnosis. On reflection, it's more about having grown up in a more connected world that gets smaller each day, and remembering there was a reason, even if they never heard the expression, that sports is 'toy department.'

    Indeed, Best was disappointed to lose. As a person born in the 1990s, ballers of his vintage are more attuned to always having another game.

    "There are positives in everything," Best said. "I am sure we'll pull some positives from it."

    Motivation for Sunday was easy to find.

    "Most of the guys were pretty down and everyone deals with it in his own way," Peter-McNeilly related. "I took a long shower after back at the hotel. Then we just realized we did not come all this way to come back with no medal."
  • Also, it takes the focus away from Carleton and shows what teams are doing to try to reach Carleton. So, win-win-win.
And we're back to Ryerson, and its need to keep broadening its horizons. The 2017 and '18 Final 8 tourneys are each in Halifax.)

Now, the doubled-edged part about being the team most bequeathed the overflow of Toronto talent that does not go D1 or juco, in a basketball world without borders, is that they can stay in their bubble. There is a huge convenience factor for southern Ontario teams in OUA, but it loses value at the Final 8.

Carleton and Ottawa, for instance, went to a preseason tournament at UBC. Ryerson, and perhaps this is budgetary, only left Ontario twice all season. The first was using their open weekend, a great innovation in OUA, to go all the way to Buffalo, N.Y., for a game against D1 Canisius. Their next outta-Ontario was the Harvard game in Boston in January.

So, two outta-Ontario games, albeit in Roy Rana's sabbatical season. The women's basketball Rams, the CIS silver medalist, had a B.C. tournament trip in October among five outta-Ontario games.

Of course, to get to do that, to attract that commitment to travel more, a school has to win. So a second Final 8 medal ought to help.

Ryerson's January and February got loaded with home games, and they lost at Guelph and needed a last-seconds triple to defeat Queen's by two. One could kind of see the levers turning on Wilson Cup weekend. The Rams had a great energy, and having a banner mattered to them. The combo of the win against Carleton, while UBC was losing in the Canada West semis, was good in the short run. It meant a more pressure-packed quarter-final.

"It was great to see," Tatham said on Sunday. "JV [Mukama] hitting big shots, guys getting tough rebounds, making championship plays."

In the here and now, the trip was daunting for a group that had never travelled for Final 8. If a team gives itself enough chances, though, it will get used to it and break through.
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