CIS Championship Sunday

Game 9 (Consolation Final): UBC v. Concordia.  Now, they pay attention to winning streaks in RavensLand, where I live, as witness Carleton Athletics’ chronicling of an (admittedly incredible) 87-game winning streak in league and playoff action, which excluded a couple of Canadian losses and several to NCAA schools in pre-season action. (I believe that the gods of basketball struck them down when they went for number 88 last season, which would have tied the immortal streak of the “Walton Gang”, the early-70s UCLA Bruins. That streak had no exceptions or provisos, nothing but wins.) I bring this up to point out that Carleton’s current winning streak at Nationals, an absurd 18 games, includes their consolation-side wins in the last Halifax appearance in which they did NOT win the big trophy. I wasn’t that aware of Carleton basketball then, although I wondered about this Dave Smart character, a young guy I’d met at basketball camps, a fine and rather funky player who was going back to Queen’s to complete his last season of eligibility before turning to his burning ambition to coach. I was curious to know if he’d be any good on the sidelines. HA! When his Ravens, in ’01, lost in the opening round at Nationals, I have no doubt that they took the consolation games with the utmost seriousness. Shoot, practice scrimmages at Carleton look like life-and-death struggles.

But this year, the nation’s number 1 and number 2 seeds ended the tournament playing for very few of the marbles. It certainly looked that way, too, especially for the UBC Thunderbirds. I’m not saying they didn’t TRY, for goodness’ sake, but, as the hockey folks say, they didn’t play with desperation. (The Ravens, meanwhile, more than any team I’ve ever paid attention to, come close to treating each game, each possession, as a matter of great urgency and team pride.) The ‘Birds’ Casey Archibald was sweet to watch, once again, at least when he had the ball in his hands, and finished with 89 points in the tournament. He doesn’t rebound or defend with a lot of energy, and Kevin Hanson and his staff don’t seem to require it of him. And so Patrick Perrotte, Benjamin Sormonte and the Buckley brothers took the Consolation title for Concordia. It just meant more to them, and this seemed clear. Concordia has an ever-deepening pool of Montreal basketball talent to mine, and though Perrotte and Sormonte are through, maybe these Nationals wins do matter to the future of Stingers basketball. I think Coach Smart would say that “meaningless” consolation wins in ’01 helped prepare for the Raven Conquests of ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06…

Game 10 (The CIS Championship, live on TSN, not that the rest of the tournament got much media attention…): Carleton v. Brandon. Yes, readers, you know the result: …AND ’07! Brandon, a prairie school with a long (and mainly distinguished?) tradition of attracting American ballplayers to the middle of Manitoba, was good. They are very quick and skilled, but I didn’t believe they could gut out the kind of championship intensity that I knew Carleton would bring. But they did, and they never cracked. Like UBC, they are very talented, starting a 6’9” basketball vagabond from Las Vegas and three terrific athletes from Quebec, especially the guard tandem of Yul Michel and Dany Charlery, both from Montreal. (They also start a Brandon boy, Chad Jacobsen. He was superb, and hit one of the gutsier shots you’ll ever see to keep Brandon in it at the end. He must’ve grown up worshipping the great teams of the Jerry Hemmings era, when Coach H brought four CIS titles to the Plains.)

If you watched on TSN, you saw what I thought was a hokey, cliché-ridden and rather stiff you been disrespected all year! pre-game speech from their young coach, Barnaby Craddock. But maybe this stuff still works. Despite being held to 23 points fewer than their previous season low, the fastbreak-happy Bobcats were tough as nails against Carleton. Their mental resilience was remarkable, because they are not used to playing the game this way. And for the first time, the Ravens’ two-time CIS Player of the Year, Osvaldo Jeanty, played only a solid game in the national final, where he had been the Player of the Game in each of his previous four appearances. Mind you, although his shooting was off, he still fired 15, defended like a madman, and hit a circus shot to (nearly) seal the game. But this time, it was junior Aaron Doornekamp, the fourth of Smart’s nephews to star for him, who was the tournament and championship game MVP. A finesse forward, he rebounded furiously and his two late threes were the killer strokes in the final 52-49 slugfest over the Bobcats.

But don’t look now, Carleton-haters – and there are more than a few in CIS circles – but the Ravens did it again AND they return 11 of the top 12 guys in their rotation, most of them for two or more seasons. They were a young squad this year; their serious opponents here will all lose several fifth-year contributors. And who knows what Smart’s high school recruiting class will look like? Certainly there are many young star athletes that won’t go to Carleton because of the lofty and incessant demands of playing for Dave Smart, but kids like to win. The best (and smartest) young players also can’t ignore that he’s with the Canadian national team as its top assistant coach. What will happen to Ravens’ opponents if they actually get a dominating post player? Or the creative point guard they’ve played without for the last two national championships?

But they also won’t have Osvaldo Jeanty any more, and that is a leadership gap that won’t be filled anytime soon. A basketball lifer close to the Carleton program has it right: “Os is far from the best basketball player I’ve watched in the CIS, but he might be the greatest one.” Along, perhaps, with McMaster’s great point guard, Steve Maga, Jeanty has fewer of the natural gifts that hoops junkies look for than any other national Player of the Year, let alone other two-time winners. He is not tall or long. He is not especially fast. He does not leap well, and has at best only reasonable quickness. What he does have are a fabulous work ethic, a phenomenal ability to accept coaching, superb hands, and what John Wooden put at the top of his famous Pyramid of Success: Competitive Greatness. Real love of a hard battle. And the will not only to win – and he has it in spades – but the will to prepare to win. I’m anxious to see how much the talented Mr. Doornekamp has absorbed from the captain in this last regard. He clearly has talent, and he clearly has the fire.

Pay attention, people. There’s something awfully special brewing in CIS basketball, has been for a good stretch, and most of the sporting public is missing a good story.

Need One Ticket

And on nights like the last one, I’m also smack-tackled by the need for a basketball team to coach. The hot ticket in Ottawa Saturday was for the OUA East championship game between the hometown Carleton Ravens and their cross-town antagonists, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. I’d struck out Wednesday when the tickets sold out in a couple of hours, so I lined up early for standing room seats. However, the “Need One” sign that I’d artfully duct-taped to my sleeve got me pretty close to my usual seat, and next to an Ottawa U co-ed who’d hoped for a more interesting date, I’m sure. We were right behind the Ravens’ bench, where I can watch Coach Dave Smart’s perpetual agony at the imperfections of his players (and of the officials, who had a tough game).

It’s great to see that kind of feverish local demand for what the Murricans call “college basketball”, in a game to decide who’d go to the Last Dance, the Canuck version of March Madness. (Mind you, ticket scarcity comes easier when the Ravens’ Nest seats fewer than 2000 people.) Ottawa U finally beat the Ravens in the Smart Era for the first time last year, and this season won both games in tight struggles, the first one before a CIS record crowd of nearly 10,000 at Scotiabank Place. (And yes, I know, the Carolina Tar Heels get more than that for their first open practice of the season. That’s a different world down there.) But the brutally efficient Ravens had still managed first place by being more consistent than the mercurial Gee-Gees; for them, beating Carleton is everything.

It looked like Carleton was going to run off and hide early, but two tight block/charge calls on successive possessions both went against Ravens star Aaron Doornekamp, leaving him with a pair of fouls and causing a potential five-point swing. From there, the Gee-Gees went on an absurd run to take a three-point halftime lead. It was wild, and it got wilder. Neither team shot well, and there were incredible sequences of defensive intensity and offensive nervousness that resulted in almost comically bad misses. The players know each other so well that Doornekamp and Osvaldo Jeanty, Canada’s reigning Player of the Year, were both in check. Similarly, the Gee-Gees silky sophomore, Josh Gibson-Bascombe, had to work very hard for his shots, though he hit several big-time threes.

The biggest shot of the game broke the second half 46-46 tie that had seemed to go on forever, and it came from an unexpected source. With the shot clock running down, substitute defensive stopper Rob Saunders nailed a tough jumper off the dribble, and the Ravens never trailed again. (Saunders is an electrical engineering student, another thing you don’t see among the NCAA Division 1 heavyweights.) The man he replaced, Stu Turnbull, looks more like a light-heavyweight boxer than a basketball player, but muscled his way to 17 points to lead the four-time champion Ravens to the win. And now Carleton goes for its fifth consecutive national title in the Final 8 at Halifax, one of the great (and under-reported) stories in Canadian sport.

Consider these ridiculous facts about the Ravens’ captain, Jeanty: he told his coach as a freshman that his goal was to win five CIS championships – only one remains; his regular season and playoff record in those four-plus years is now 130-8, a winning ratio over 95% (!); he has been the championship game MVP in all four that he has played. Meanwhile, NOT SO SMART! the Gee-Gees fans chanted, but Coach Dave has put together, at a university with no outstanding tradition of basketball excellence, one of the most powerful and unlikely dynasties we’ve ever seen.

I have such admiration for what they do, but I can’t get into the yelling and chanting. (And it was LOUD.) I’m too busy pretending to coach. I’m breaking down Turnbull’s jumpshot during the pre-game. I mutter about Gibson-Bascombe’s decision-making, and tip my hat to his smooth and confident game (and wonder how Ottawa U pried him out of Toronto, and away from a U.S. full-ride scholarship, which must have been available to him). Finish strong, I plead with Doornekamp, who apparently doesn’t hear me. What’s worse, these tired old bones couldn’t sleep afterwards because this fevered old brain is in full game-analysis mode, and planning practices for a non-existent team. Drives me nuts. Love this time of year.

Four Straight Titles — Does Anybody Hear?

If a basketball team wins four straight national championships and hardly anyone notices, does it make a sound? (Does anybody but Mom and Dad meet them at the airport?) Do they go to Disney World? (Or maybe Ray’s Reptiles?) Will they meet the President? (The President, say, of their own university? Okay, this is Canada, and the school is in Ottawa. Maybe the Prime Minister will…Nah.) Wait. I know what happens. Finals are coming; these guys will probably be in class today. (No, Toto, I don’t think we’re talking about the NCAA anymore.)

Yes, the Carleton University Invisible Ravens did it again, and it makes no sense to me. [Editor’s note: they aren’t actually invisible. They just perform amazing feats of tough effort and athletic intelligence and united commitment when hardly anybody’s looking. Yeah, it’s a CIS thing… CIS, not CSI. We’re talkin’ actual people, not TV science cops. Canadian Interuniversity Sport… Yes, they have sports… Yes, they are sometimes on television, if local-access cable counts… No, they’re actually students at the university they play for…Yes, I’m totally serious!)

The Ravens don’t have an actual point guard nor a real post presence. Their most talented player missed the title run with a bum ankle. They’re outsized almost every night. But the Carleton basketball men do have some mysterious and some blatantly obvious qualities that allowed them to win the National Championship again. They’re fiercely competitive, defensively intimidating without either a shot-blocker or on-ball pickpockets, offensively disciplined without being tentative, and they rebound like their erectile function depended on it. Hey, it’s four in a row, kids. Don’t you think some attention should be paid to these guys?

Manny Jean-Marie just doesn’t make a mistake. For my money, he doesn’t make enough; when their gargantuan home winning streak was broken in January, his cautiousness and deference to teammates was exposed. When the Ravens had even less firepower available in the title game, though, he did more than “just being Manny”: his shots were daggers to the UVic Vikings, not just his stops and big boards and every loose ball. When Carleton actually had point guards during his first two seasons, Ryan Bell was an undersized but athletic forward. Yesterday, he convinced me that maybe the Ravens do have a point guard, one who happens to be their best rebounder. Bell took over the game late, and even got some clear-outs called for him when the shooting star had been taken away. (Finally.)

Because it’s not as if that Star, Osvaldo Jeanty, hadn’t already rained enough threes and drained enough clutch off-balance finishes to be named MVP of yesterday’s final. That, my friends, is another Four Straight. The Wizard of Os has been named the Final Ten tournament’s best man twice, including this year, but he has been Mr. Clutch in the national championship game every time he’s played in it. Four for four. (If CIS basketball ever decides to brand itself, they can just modify the Jerry West-inspired NBA logo with an Os silhouette. And unlike the original Mr. Clutch, Osvaldo actually does go to his left.) And next year, he’s gunning to fulfil the goal he set for himself and his team when Dave Smart recruited him: Coach, we’re going to win the CIS five times by the time I’m done. That’s the plan. Even before all those titles, Dave was a confident and spookily focussed guy, but I’ll bet even he had trouble not smirking. Sure, kid. Yeah. The Carleton dynasty. You bet.

Well, now it’s here. This was the year for the rest of the country to get ‘em, especially with star sophomore forward Aaron Doornekamp on the shelf. Their top 8 players, at least, are expected back. Osvaldo, a Business major, has some unfinished biz to take care of. I hope Os takes a day off. The Drive for Five, though, probably started today. Today, this will be a pretty big story in Ottawa, but not for long. I know Carleton students who don’t know much about the Ravens. Listen, I still can get a buzz about big-money athletics, but I must tell you: this is the most interesting ongoing story in my personal Wide World of Sports.

OUA East Playoffs: Ravens in a Romp

The basketball dynasty in my back yard keeps rolling along. The Carleton Ravens should have been facing York, and the Lions are getting healthy at the right time. They’ve looked good recently. (They’ve looked good, that is, in game reports I read on the CUBDL, an email newsletter on Canadian university hoops. You didn’t think their games were televised, did you? A note to Dale Stevens, McMaster  Marauder loyalist and hoops devotee in Hamilton, at, will get you in on the CIS hoop scoop.) York has played much of the year without their top scorer (last year’s OUA East Player of the Year, Dan Eaves) and rebounder (6’10” Jordan Foebel), and could have threatened the Ravens’ drive for a fourth straight national title.

But Queens went in and shocked Toronto, moving York into a matchup with Ottawa and earning themselves the privilege of getting drilled by 34 at the Ravens’ Nest. Ouch. My taxi run to pick up friends made us a bit late, and while we waited for a break in play before sitting down, Osvaldo Jeanty hit three treys in consecutive possessions. By the time we were settled, about 8 minutes in, so was the game. Aside from the Wizard of Os, nobody played all that great, and Coach Dave was fuming. (But then, he always does.) Wait, I should say that Rob Saunders is proving to be better than I realized (he’s been hurt lots, too), another one of those tough Carleton guys who isn’t great at anything but defends well, knows where the rim is and rebounds like a madman.

And El Predicto knew this game would be a blowout, but he goes farther: Ottawa U is going down tonight to York in the other East semifinal. Their terrific season (including that long-awaited win over the cross-town rival Ravens!) ends with a groan. Just a feeling.