The Toronto Raptors aren’t the only basketball team in the city that’s off to an astonishing start.
In its first seven games of the regular season, the Ryerson men’s basketball team is undefeated. Tied with the Carleton Ravens, the Rams are sitting pretty at the top of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) leaderboard.
Oh, and they also score a league-leading 93 points per game while holding opponents to an average of just 58 points.
Of course, the Rams were good last year, too, finishing second in the OUA Wilson Cup Finals. But this team looks different, and it’s not just because of the departure of five veterans at the end of last season.
Since this time last year, the team’s field goal, free throw and three-point percentages have all improved, and according to head coach Roy Rana, it isn’t because of some new coaching strategy he’s deployed.
“We’re committed to our system and we continue to play that way. There’s not really a significant departure from what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
Still, fifth-year veteran Jean-Victor Mukama has noticed something distinct about this year’s Rams.
“Everybody accepted their role very quickly. I think everybody put their ego aside. Usually it takes a while,” he said. “Everybody is so locked in.”
Mukama also noted that while it’s typically harder for rookies to adapt to a new team, that hasn’t been the case this time around.
His new teammates are a bit of a mixed bag. According to Rana, there are younger rookies with potential, older players with a lot of experience and some dynamic transfers from other universities.
“It’s different from player to player, but they’re . . . making great contributions,” Rana said. “Our group overall, is now bigger, longer, taller, so I think that’s had an impact (on our success).”
One of the new Rams showing promise is Jayden Frederick, a transfer from York University. The third-year student came to Ryerson last year, but due to eligibility rules, he couldn’t play. He’s able to hit the court in a Rams jersey now and he’s making his presence known.
“It’s a good feeling finally being able to contribute in a different way other than just giving energy outside of the court,” Frederick said. “I feel like I had to change the way I play (since York). I’m thinking more defensively. I know I can help offensively, but I don’t need to worry about that as much as I did before.”
Even though he’s not really worrying about it, Frederick is consistently contributing to the scoreboard. He’s fifth on the team in field goal percentage and points per game, as well as fourth in three-point shooting percentage.
“He fits in nicely. He’s a special athlete … and he’s getting better on both ends of the floor,” Rana said.
Not to be forgotten, of course, are the team’s existing players. Phenom forward Tanor Ngom was incredible for the Rams last year as a rookie, and according to Rana, he’s only grown his game heading into his second season.
“He’s maturing, he’s got more experience and knows what it’s about,” Rana said.
Ngom has the second-highest field goal percentage in the OUA, shooting 65 per cent.
Additionally, Mukama was recently named one of Ryerson’s Athletes of the Week after scoring a career-high 27 points against Laurier on Nov. 10.
“My hard work is paying off. I’ve been in tough games (over the years) and I know what it takes to win,” Mukama said. “I think the coaches . . . trust me to put me in a position where I can be successful.”
Right now, the Rams are functioning like a well-oiled machine. All engines are in top condition, with veterans and young guns all running smoothly.
Rana credits the team’s readiness going into the season with the work players put in during the off-season.
When training started up again, Rana said a vast majority of the team showed up for non-mandatory workouts every weekday at 7 a.m.
“Guys really committed to getting stronger and worked on their individual games . . . and that (payoff) is showing up now,” Rana said. “It’s a pretty connected group of guys … Every single player has stepped up.”
Perfect record or not, there’s always more work to be done. Rana said he wants to start working on the smaller details of their game in future practices.
“(We need to improve) our fundamentals . . . how we catch the ball, how we pass the ball, how we communicate.
“We’re nowhere near as good as we can be. Just because we’re off to a great start doesn’t mean that it’s going to continue, but we’ll enjoy it . . . and try to keep going.”
Next, the Ryerson Rams are facing off against the Windsor Lancers on Friday, Nov. 23, at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.