Carleton Ravens return to CIS Final 8 with new identity
Star siblings graduated, legendary coach on sabbatical
The Carleton Ravens were largely defined by two star siblings and a legendary coach en route to capturing the last five Canadian men's university basketball titles.
With all three gone, the team's latest incarnation had to scrape and claw to establish its own identity.
Winners of a record 11 national championships, the Ravens are back at the CIS Final 8 tournament despite losing brothers Philip and Thomas Scrubb to graduation and having Dave Smart step away from the program for a year's sabbatical.
Veterans who played supporting roles had to take the lead, while assistant Rob Smart — Dave's nephew and a former Ravens player — assumed head coaching duties on an interim basis.
"There's been some ups and downs," Rob Smart said Wednesday after practice. "It's been a lot of fun."
The current crop of Ravens, ranked No. 2 this year after falling to Ryerson in last weekend's OUA final, know the history. But they don't put pressure on themselves when it comes to past glory.
"Obviously you look up and you see a lot of banners," said fourth-year guard Kaza Kajami-Keane of Ajax, Ont., a transfer from Cleveland State. "We're trying to be the best Carleton team that we can be.
"We're not trying to be better than the teams from the past."
Fifth-year guard Gavin Resch, a starter for the first time in his university career, said there hasn't been much of a shift from one Smart to the other.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," said the Ottawa native. "They have some different things that they stress.
"It has been slightly different, but the message at the end of day is the same."
Rob Smart still talks strategy with his uncle, but there's a clear chain of command for this season.
"If it's something we want to use, we use it. If not, we tell him 'No,"' the younger Smart said with a smile. "Obviously he knows his stuff, but in the end the guys who are there every day are going to make the decisions.
"There's been a huge opportunity for people to give input that they've probably been wanting to give for a while."
Ravens open against Thompson Rivers
The Ravens open the tournament at the University of British Columbia on Thursday against No. 7 Thompson Rivers, while No. 3 Ottawa takes on No. 6 Dalhousie, and No. 4 Calgary meets No. 5 McGill.
No. 1 Ryerson plays the late game against No. 8 UBC, which is hosting the event for the first time since 1972. Friday is set aside for the consolation round, with the semifinals Saturday, and the final and third-place game going Sunday.
The Ravens, who have won all 11 of their titles over the last 13 years with Dave Smart in charge, went 16-3 in the regular season thanks to a defence that led the country for the eighth time in nine campaigns.
"We're a pretty balanced team. We're very deep," said Rob Smart. "It means it's exciting and frustrating at times.
"We don't really know necessarily who's going to be the main weapon so we've got to go into every game with a team mentality of defend, rebound, transition, move the ball and let the game flow."
Carleton also won five straight championships from 2003 to 2007 to go along with another in 2009. The Victoria Vikes took home a record seven national crowns in a row from 1980 to 1986, but the younger Smart said there's no talk of streaks or history books in his camp.
"Every team is totally different," he said. "We have things that we've seen work and we try them, [but] if you get stuck in a rut where you just try to replicate exactly what was before, it's not fair to the people that you're with right now."
For a program that's used to being favoured at this tournament — Carleton embarrassed cross-town rivals Ottawa 93-46 in the 2015 final — these Ravens are eager to see how far they can go in what can only be described as a transition year.
"It's been a real process," said Rob Smart. "We've probably been trying to fit in a couple of seasons worth of development into one season. We're in a position where we can win a national championship.
"That's pretty much what we had hoped to do."