After reaching new heights last season but ultimately coming up short, the Ryerson men’s basketball team is determined to return to the national championship tournament this season.
And while several new players have been added to the Rams’ roster, the team will lean on the veteran leadership of fifth-year players Juwon Grannum and Adika Peter-McNeilly to help guide the team back to nationals.
“I know for me and couple guys on the team it’s our last year, and we are really excited for it,” said Grannum. “Hopefully we can go out on top this year.”
Last season, the Rams captured the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship for the first time ever by defeating the perennial powerhouse Carleton University Ravens. Both teams then went on to nationals, where many expected a rematch for the national championship.
However, the Rams were surprisingly defeated in a semifinal matchup with the University of Calgary Dinos. The Ravens subsequently cruised to the national title, defeating the Dinos by 22 points.
“We’ve had a couple of, I don’t want to say disappointing seasons, but we have expectations for ourselves and we know we could have done a bit better,” Grannum told the Ryersonian. “But just knowing we have another opportunity, we have to try to make it count.”
Like Grannum, Peter-McNeilly says that despite having yet to reach the national championship game, he views his final season as one last opportunity to take care of some unfinished business.
“For me it’s just maximizing my ability, and maximizing my potential on the team,” said Peter-McNeilly. “I’m going to have to give it my all and not look back and have any regrets.”
To return to nationals, the Rams will have to adjust following the departures of Aaron Best and Kadeem Green, who capped their respective careers at Ryerson with a third-place finish at nationals last March. Best, who averaged almost 18 points per game last season, will play professionally in Lithuania this year; while Green, last season’s defensive anchor for the Rams, will play professionally in Morocco.
In place of Best and Green is a new cohort of recruits, who returning members of the team say have been impressive so far.
“Our depth this year is going to be a big part of our success,” said Grannum. “The guys being there to produce offensively and defensively, and giving some of our guys a break knowing there won’t be any letdown, is going to be huge down the stretch.”
Rams head coach Roy Rana will be tasked with incorporating the new recruits into the team’s uptempo offensive system.
“We’ll have some new faces, and try to figure out how this group comes together and what kind of impression they can make,” said Rana. “I’m encouraged by where we are going.”
Peter-McNeilly says that fans can expect the same exciting style of basketball that the Rams have become known for in recent years.
“It’s going to be the same fast team — same tempo, threes, dunks, a lot of excitement, defence — everyone has the same swagger, same style as before,” he said. “There may be new names, new faces — new hairstyles — but it’s going to be the same.”
The Rams tip off their regular season on the road versus the Laurier Golden Hawks on Nov. 5. The home-opener is slated for Nov. 18 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, against the Nipissing University Lakers. The women play first at 6 p.m., followed by the men at 8 p.m.