Ottawa is called the world's biggest small town, but Toronto is giving it a great run in the sports department.
Or at least its media does, which might explain why the Toronto Star, which normally gives little play to Canadian university basketball, pathetically alleged Carleton Ravens coach Dave Smart's player "ran up the score" during Sunday's national final, where Carleton won by a record 50 points. It's in the same vein as the same media outlet falling for it hook, line, sinker a few weeks back when the NHL's Ottawa Senators did some tiptop-notch trolling of Leaf Nation by asking season-ticket holders to keep seats from falling into fans of the Buds. Deep-down, someone in the Senators sanctum (Senctum?) knew the Toronto media would pounce on the chance to lampoon Pleasantville. Far be it to point out Ottawa is not Toronto's competition in the Shelbyville Syndrome steeplechase.
Who knows, maybe Star contributor Charlie Wilkins is trolling Ottawans and I'm falling for it. In the course of a heartfelt take on the runners-up, Smart got sideswiped. It wasn't necessary for the writer to make his point and worse, it was false. Then again, it's CIS so it's not like accuracy matters.
It was a painful loss for the Thunderwolves, made the more so by Carleton coach Dave Smart. Throughout the match, the CIS coach of the year paraded along the sidelines in a virtual parody of an aggrieved commander — agonizing, screaming, slapping his forehead in apparent dismay over his team’s ineptitude. Meanwhile, his efficient charges ran up the score in spectacular fashion, ending with a 92-42 annihilation of the Thunderwolves, who appeared to have little left after their victories on Friday and Saturday. Smart left his starters in until the last four minutes of the lopsided victory. (Toronto Star)
Oh, please. It is part of the whole human comedy that people can have witness the same event and having wildly varying interpretations, but that's not exactly how it happened.
For one, if you're going to accuse a coach of being a big meanie, don't paint the runners-up as these innocents from Northern Ontario who were led to slaughter in front of "8,000 Carleton fans in the stands and perhaps 80 Lakehead fans." The announced attendance was 5,397, by the way, but I only know this because it was shown on the video scoreboard.
What Wilkins overlooked was there was some chippiness on the floor. Lakehead, whose frustration at going out in a no-win situation that I saw coming was understandable, got an unsporting foul (as it's called in FIBA argot) in the third quarter. There were comments directed at the Carleton staff. Conversely, those who have followed Carleton closely knows that Smart is animated, but has boundaries and only talks to referees and his own players.
The play-by-play account shows Carleton's starting forwards, Tyson Hinz and Thomas Scrubb, did not play in the fourth quarter. Guard Phil Scrubb and graduating forward Kyle Smendziuk came out with 5:43 to play during the same stoppage when Lakehead coach Scott Morrison made a virtual wholesale change so his graduating players could be applauded by the Lakehead bench. Guard Clinton Springer-Williams checked out with 4:52 left.
As far how Carleton played, please, have you seen them play? The ethos of Carleton basketball is never take a possession off and that anyone who makes a mental mistake will get yanked. There is no off position on the genius switch. When Carleton pulled away with a game-opening 11-0 run, Smart's '12-13 preseason began.
That's how it is. No apology is owed for coaching. Saying otherwise validates the Canadian loser mentality that it's not worth it to try so hard all the time, because the Americans just do it better. Plus this is our country's national championship. Play like you mean it. Would you really expect Carleton's younger players such as Gavin Resch and Connor Wood who can hit threes falling out of bed not to shoot when they get to play in front of the largest crowd they've ever seen in their lives? Athletes are not wired the same way as sportswriters. Letting the shot clock run out would have actually been showing up Lakehead.
The irony is a colleague asked me if I thought Carleton would score 100 points. I said, "Smart wouldn't let that happen." There might have been some hard feelings, especially after that hard foul in the third and due to Lakehead thumping Carleton two years ago in the OUA final. That's part of having a competitive personality. It's plausible that Smart might have decided to really let it loose, but this fell well short of rubbing salt in Lakehead's wounds. It's intricate, like Carleton's system.
That's makes the "aggrieved commander" line infuriating. One night earlier, Smart actually said he felt bad about rival Ottawa failing to make the final. It's just a shame that a writer, who is supposed to see what TV cameras cannot, doesn't get past the surface. There is so much more.
From Shannon Proudfoot;
When Smart recruited Elliot Thompson out of Fredericton, N.B., to play for Carleton starting in 2007, the coach’s reputation preceded him: “All I knew about Carleton was that Dave was nuts and that they won a lot. That was enough for me,” Thompson says. The shooting guard’s way of working hard was endless hours spent on his stroke, practising footwork and lifting weights. But one day in his first or second season, Smart called him into his office. He told Thompson that he’d reach a point he couldn’t push past with sheer strength and speed, but he could elevate his game by watching a lot more video, figuring out how to read the game and what an opponent was going to do before they’d even decided. It made him a smarter player. “People just see Dave as a hardass, but they don’t really see how much he cares about his players,” Thompson says. “I’m biased, but I’d say he’s the best coach there’s ever been in Canada.” (Sportsnet)
The game was just a mismatch. Lakehead's two most important defenders in the post and on the perimeter were each playing hurt. None of their wing defenders had the athleticism of Thomas Scrubb or Springer-Williams.
Lakehead getting to the final was a great story. It also had a Toronto angle through their post Yoosrie Salhia, who was the subject of a very nice pre-tournament piece by Wilkins. They just were not good enough.
This all comes back to the Toronto complex toward Ottawa, though. It makes no sense. Ottawa is not Toronto's competition. World capitals such as London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New York City and Tokyo should be Toronto's rivals. Why obsess over Ottawa? It's a roll-up-the-sidewalks government town, whose idea of nice things differs from the GTA's. That includes sports. Historically it is a lousy pro sports town but it's also one of the world's most livable cities and there's a subculture that loves seeing fundamentally sound university basketball can never be understood by people from Markham who think, "Man, the Leafs blew it tonight" passes for insight.
Why the Toronto media based in the city feed this counterproductive mentality is bizarre. Meantime, speaking of true competition, Carleton apparently needs some. Nine national titles is nirvana to its alumni and even Halifax columnists are acknowledging their city doesn't have a monopoly on hosting the CIS Final 8. That's only one weekend per year, though. Winning has become a big bore to current students who don't see the fuss over dominating Canadian opponents to the count of a 99-2 record during the current three-year title run.
Carleton scheduled seven games this season vs. Division I teams. It probably needs to go big or go home. Play 10-12 NCAA games a year. Hold an eight-team early-season tournament with cross-town rival Ottawa and six D-1 teams. Travel to one where the games will be available on Canadian digital cable packages, then hold viewing parties. Do keep it mind they cannot strain things too much, since student-athlete isn't a lip-service deal in Canada.
That might open more eyes to a great product that's right under people's noses. It would also be a small lesson in knowing where the bar is set. Take a note, GTA.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.