Sunday, 25 December 2011

Injury bug slows Rams climb

Accustomed to rapid success and impatient with setbacks, Ryerson Head Coach Roy Rana made steady, almost spectacular progress in just his second season as Rams bench boss in 2010-11, taking Rye to the OUA East semi-finals at the Raven's Nest in Ottawa last February against the eventual National champions before a sold-out crowd.  It was a perfect setting for his young troops, led by 6'0" point guard Jahmal Jones, to experience to subsequently take the next steps in their quickly maturing careers. Although Carleton's victory was relatively decisive, observers continually are seeing a Ryerson team that plays hard on every possession regardless of what happened before, a team that plays together and a program where the overall talent level continues to push toward being among the best in the country. Thus, an elevated level of expectation into this season was very warranted.

Unfortunately, much of the early optimism was suddenly derailed in the face of a rash of injuries that created significant roster churn and had Rana and staff scrambling for much of the first half, sometimes as few as 8 or 9 healthy bodies for some games. To wit, prized 6'3" OCAA transfer Greg Osome sustained a spiral fracture of fibia in August and is out for year; 6'4" Aaron Best (Toronto Eastern Commerce), arguably the top high school recruit in the entire CIS, broke his foot in opener vs. Laurier and is not expected back until mid-January; 6'6" Greg Kieran (Ottawa), looked upon to provide depth in the post, hurt his miniscus (knee) in late November weeks ago and is out indefinitely and 6'9" center Bjorn Michalsen broke a bone in his arm blocking a shot vs. UBC in Ryerson's first CIS pre-season game in October - Rams do, however, get the sophomore from Quebec back for their Ryerson National Invitational tournament this week.

Also, probably Ryerson's most consistent and important player other than Jahmal Jones, 6'2" Ola Adegboruwa, played the first half though a pair of off-season micro fracture surgeries on his wrist and knee. The uncertainties around the roster hurt the Rams primarily in two key areas: taking care of the ball in their up-tempo offense and giving up too many threes, areas that appear to have been rectified somewhat in the last 3-4 games. The Rams also had to adjust to Jones playing only three pre-season games due to Pan-Am Games (Jones missed Ryerson's trip to the West Coast vs. NCAA D1 teams to catch up on his academics after his time with Canada's Pan-Am games team).

Despite these setbacks, the Rams enter the second half of the OUA season at 3-5, well within reach of a first round playoff bye and at a minimum in position to host a home playoff game. Emerging into one of the best point guards in all of the CIS, 6'0" Jones has singlehandidly kept the Rams in several games with a season-high 30 vs. Waterloo and an 11-point/11-assist effort in a win against Brock. 6'3" Jordan Gauthier (13.6 ppg/7.1 rpg) has stayed healthy, carrying more of the scoring load and is maturing in his sophomore season while yet another second-year contributor 6'7" Jelane Pryce (9.5 ppg/5.5 rpg) continues to flash his tremendous athleticism. 6'5" Luke Staniscia (9.9 ppg/8.9 rpg) has been a monster on the glass, helping to alleviate the loss of Michalsen in the first half. NCAA Division 1 (Chicago State) transfer 6'9" Nem Stankovic (5.0 ppg/3.1 rpg) is adjusting to dealing with smaller, quicker forwards.

Despite the 3-5, Rana praises his guys:  "the effort has been there every night" and Ryerson expects to continue to push up toward the top of OUA East this season. Ryerson hosts the RNIT beginning early next week with a first-round matchup against OCAA power Sheridan Bruins. Also at the tournament are cross-town rival U of T Varsity Blues, Laval Rouge et Or, defending tournament champions Walsh College, Waterloo Warriors, Guelph Gryphons and Memorial Sea-hawks. All games are in downtown Toronto at Kerr Hall on the Ryerson campus. This is likely to be the final RNIT at Kerr with the new home of the Rams: the new Maple Leaf Gardens opening in the coming months.

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