The Carleton Ravens’ final loss on the Canadian college basketball championship was set in movement a number of hours earlier than tip-off, on the watery, blood-stained flooring of an Ottawa lodge room.
As he watched Michael Lieffers squirm on the lavatory tile, the porcelain shards of a busted bathroom embedded in his left leg, Michael Linklater, the Saskatchewan Huskies’ fifth-year captain, feared much less for his group’s probabilities that night time within the nationwide semifinals than for the lifetime of his roommate and teammate. The 2 gamers had been horsing round, chasing one another between the furnishings to quell the monotony of a game-day afternoon. Now coaches, trainers and paramedics rushed in from the hallway as one, whereas the group bus idled exterior within the chilly.
However then issues began to search for. As his teammates rode out to Ottawa’s suburban enviornment, Lieffers was whisked to a hospital and admitted for speedy remedy, over the objections of the triage nurse on obligation. A health care provider closed the gash between his calf and Achilles tendon with 25 stitches. When that was performed, the paramedics returned him to an ambulance, triggered the siren and made for the sport.
And within the time it took for all that to play out, earlier than his roommate limped into the tunnel simply because the Huskies gathered for warm-up, Linklater resolved that they might win.
“I used to be not afraid of Carleton. I used to be not scared one bit. I wasn’t anxious in regards to the consequence, as a result of I knew the result was going to be us successful,” Linklater recalled just lately. “In the event you return and watch the tape, as soon as the sport was completed there was no celebration, as a result of we knew that we had been going to win, and that we had been occurring to win the championship.
“That’s the mentality you need to go into enjoying Carleton with. When you have any doubt — ‘Ooh, we might lose this recreation’ — it would actually have an effect on you.”
Carleton, after all, is the Canadian males’s basketball dynasty that refuses to wither. The Ravens have charged the court docket in celebration in 13 of the final 15 nationwide championship finals, together with streaks of 5 and 7 in a row. As their 2017-18 season begins this week, it’s all too simple to take their astonishing run without any consideration, to view a 14th title in 16 years as a foregone conclusion.
Keep in mind the half about Saskatchewan being the final group to beat them at nationals? That occurred March 20, 2010, seven full seasons in the past.
“We’d prefer to say we’re a perennial contender for the championship,” mentioned James Derouin, who has coached the College of Ottawa Gee-Gees since 2010-11. “However there appears to be just one group getting the championship.”
But at the same time as they’ve lorded over college hoops on the nationwide degree, the Ravens have proven flashes of vulnerability near house. They haven’t received three of the final 4 Ontario convention titles; these have gone to Ottawa (2014) and the Ryerson Rams (2016 and 2017), the place Derouin and Roy Rana have cultivated elite applications of their very own — with the whole lot to point out for it besides their recreation’s final prize.
The group that nearly by no means loses, in different phrases, continues to be beatable. It has occurred earlier than. It is going to occur once more. However when? Towards whom? And, most dauntingly for his or her opponents: How?
LESSON NO. 1: GET FAMILIAR
The elements that set Carleton other than the remainder of the nation, Derouin mentioned over the cellphone one night time after observe final month, embody their preparation, depth, consistency, teaching and expertise. And the numbers. Oh, the staggering numbers.
Final season, because the Ravens romped by way of convention play at 19-0, they led the nation in field-goal capturing (50.1 per cent), three-point capturing (42.9 per cent) and rebounding (44.2 per recreation). They had been second in assists (18.2) and whole scoring (92 factors per recreation). On defence, no group allowed fewer factors (58.6 per recreation) or hounded opponents into capturing worse from the sphere (34.6 per cent).
Briefly, Carleton is nice at the whole lot — each single yr.
Since they began successful titles below head coach Dave Sensible in 2002-03, the Ravens have a regular-season file of 304-15, a successful clip of .953. 5 of Sensible’s gamers have mixed to win to eight Canadian MVP awards. Within the final seven years, the Ravens have outscored varied opponents within the nationwide closing — presumably their hardest attainable check — by 21, 22, 23, 47 and 50. Every summer time and fall, they ease into the brand new season by dealing with, and infrequently beating, NCAA Division I faculties in exhibitions.
“Their consolation zone is enjoying on the highest depth,” Derouin mentioned. “As soon as they’ve received you at that degree, whether or not it’s their conditioning, whether or not it’s their capability to focus at that tempo, they’ve received you beat — except you may play that onerous on a regular basis. Then you definately could be in the identical ballpark at that time.”
Exterior of Carleton itself, few individuals know the Ravens as intimately as Derouin. The Gee-Gees play them twice a yr within the common season, together with an annual winter showdown on the Ottawa Senators’ enviornment, the Canadian Tire Centre. On a number of events, they’ve confronted off once more within the Ontario playoffs. In 2014 and 2015, they upped the ante by assembly within the nationwide closing — a 79-67 Carleton victory within the first of these video games and a 93-46 Ravens rout within the second.
Given their considerably doubtful capability to struggle for nationwide banners yearly with out ever being the perfect group in their very own metropolis, the Gee-Gees’ rivalry with Carleton often is the most unjust in Canadian sports activities. Derouin’s regular-season file at Ottawa is 110-33 — and 3-11 towards the Ravens. These wins all got here in 2015 and 2016, with veteran lineups that had encountered Carleton a number of instances earlier than, sufficient to now not be cowed by their defence, capturing, tenacity and pedigree. Anybody enjoying them for the primary time, Derouin mentioned, has “no likelihood.”
It took Derouin’s groups 9 tries to lastly beat Carleton, which they did 78-77 within the 2014 convention closing. It was a recreation the place all the celebs aligned, he mentioned, the place Ottawa led after one quarter and completed the fourth on a 13-2 run. And but the championship was solely received within the closing second, on a step-back jumper All-Canadian guard Johnny Berhanemeskel sank below stress from the foul line.
“You have a look at some (of Carleton’s) different losses — they’re all comparable sort, type of upset wins on the buzzer or additional time,” Derouin mentioned.
“Even after they lose, they’re proper there to beat you on the finish.”
LESSON NO. 2: MATCH THEIR TALENT
Carleton’s success, unfold as it’s over a number of generations, has transcended the influence of anyone participant. Take the case of Dave Sensible’s nephew and assistant coach, Rob, an All-Canadian guard on Carleton’s first championship group again in 2002-03. Rob is now 37 years outdated. In 2015-16, when his uncle took a yearlong sabbatical, he slid down the bench and coached Carleton to a different nationwide crown — their 12th to that time.
That mentioned, the Sensible system has at all times been blessed with immense expertise. Carleton’s largest stars, Osvaldo Jeanty and Philip Scrubb, every have 5 nationwide championships from their 5 years of eligibility. Aaron Doornekamp and Tyson Hinz received Canadian Participant of the Yr awards from the submit; sharpshooter Connor Wooden earned that award final yr from the three-point line. Different gamers had moments that made them cult heroes, like Stuart Turnbull, the guard whose buzzer-beating fadeaway shocked the Western Mustangs within the 2009 nationwide semis.
By the identical token, Carleton’s losses have usually come on nights of particular person brilliance, when one or two gamers on a better aircraft managed to unravel their defence for the higher a part of 40 minutes.
When Saskatchewan received in 2010, Lieffers dragged his bum leg to a double-double and Linklater scored a game-high 25 factors. Berhanemeskel’s successful jumper in 2014 capped off a 30-point efficiency. In March, when Ryerson upset Carleton within the Ontario closing for the second straight yr, Adika Peter-McNeilly and Ammanuel Diressa mixed for 53 factors, together with 9 in a row to take a late, conclusive lead.
“They performed properly, by no means gave up and stored combating. That has turn into the persona of this group,” Rana, Ryerson’s coach, instructed reporters after that recreation. (He declined an interview request for this story, as did Dave Sensible.)
“Each recreation is completely different,” Rana mentioned. “It comes all the way down to possessions once you play good groups, and we made large pictures down the stretch.”
Peter-McNeilly has gone on to professional basketball in Germany, however as a fifth-year senior this season, Diressa ought to be one of many best possible gamers in Ontario. A pair of Carleton transfers will lead the 2017-18 Gee-Gees: forwards Jean-Emmanuel Pierre-Charles and Brody Maracle. Laurentian guard Kadre Grey led the nation in scoring as a rookie final season, whereas Brock retained 4 starters from a group that beat Ottawa for provincial bronze.
Convention play, as such, shall be fierce, and there may be a minimum of another reason to suppose Carleton might falter this yr: they misplaced their three finest gamers — Wooden, fellow All-Canadian guard Kaza Kajami-Keane and provincial All-Star ahead Ryan Ejim — to commencement.
Then once more, the passage of time alone has by no means stopped them earlier than.
“It’s nearly a non-story that they simply hold successful,” Derouin mentioned. “You’ve received all 47 coaches within the nation making an attempt to determine learn how to knock them off. (Sensible) nonetheless manages to drag it off with that large goal on his again. It’s actually an unimaginable run.”
LESSON NO. 3: LEARN FROM THE PAST
When Carleton opens convention play towards the Guelph Gryphons on Nov. 3, they may have already taken the court docket for a season’s price of exhibition video games. The Ravens went 16-2 towards home and American opponents, together with wins over Alabama, Vanderbilt and Windfall and a championship from their annual pre-season invitational, the Home-Laughton Match.
This yr is the 17th in a row that Carleton has received the Home-Laughton title. It’s the one occasion they rule extra constantly than nationals — and, generally, the occasion the place they immediate their eventual demise.
Again in 2009-10, Linklater and his teammates didn’t fare particularly properly the primary time they confronted the Ravens. Thankfully for them, that have got here months earlier than it actually mattered. Saskatchewan misplaced 97-79 to Carleton within the Home-Laughton closing that October, however they flew house from the event with newfound perception.
“What we took from the sport was that Carleton was beatable by our group that yr,” mentioned Linklater, who as of late is Canada’s top-ranked 3-on-Three basketball participant.
The Huskies had been large, versatile and deep that season. That they had expert guards — Linklater and Showron Glover, the highest scorer within the nation — who might overcome Carleton’s defensive technique of shading each ball-handler to the left. They had been explosive sufficient to attain in bunches, and perceptive sufficient to see Carleton begin to sweat throughout these runs. And in the event that they met once more at nationals, they knew they’d should hold one in every of two units of Ravens from scoring: their exterior shooters or bruising centre Kevin McCleery.
The Huskies returned to Ottawa that winter because the champions of Western Canada. Past the galvanizing impact of Lieffers’ foot-first dash into the bathroom, they received their rematch with the Ravens due to a defensive adjustment: guard towards threes by refusing to double down within the submit.
By the tip of their semifinal, McCleery had fought his strategy to 20 factors towards a collection of solo defenders, however Carleton hit simply two of 17 three-point makes an attempt. Saskatchewan led by 9 factors at halftime and by 12 after three quarters. Lieffers got here off the bench to play 32 minutes, and Glover by no means left the court docket. All Linklater did, in the meantime, was nail six of his 10 three-point tries, the final of them within the closing minute to seal an 86-82 win.
“It actually took a unison, well-oiled machine to beat them,” Linklater mentioned. “All the things principally has to fall into place.”
It’s nearly an afterthought to say what Saskatchewan did the next day, although it’s the solely factor extra uncommon in Canadian hoops than a win over Carleton. Lieffers awoke on March 21, 2010 with the identical stitches in his leg, however willed himself to play 32 extra minutes. Glover matched his season common with 28 factors, and Linklater added 20. They beat the UBC Thunderbirds 91-81 within the final recreation of the yr.
This time round, the Huskies left Ottawa as Canadian champions.
“It’s humorous once I give it some thought, however Carleton’s hogging all of the rings,” Linklater mentioned. “There haven’t been too many different locations which have had the chance to expertise what it’s prefer to win a nationwide championship.”
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