Monday, March 16, 2009

CIS Corner: Hats off to Carleton

A journo friend once said what she loved about her job was that every day, you start at zero.

That analogy, at least from afar, fits the Carleton Ravens to a T (as in Turnbull, Stuart, whose 22-point, seven-rebound effort in Sunday's 87-77 championship-game win over the UBC Thunderbirds sealed the Kingston area's sweep of the Final 8 most outstanding player awards, since Napanee's Matteke Hutzler was the MOP for the Simon Fraser women's team). The way Carleton pulled it off on Saturday night, when Turnbull hit the last-second game-winner to beat Western, naturally lent itself to speculation about an emotional letdown. Everyone remembered how Acadia took down Carleton on semi-final Saturday last March and then lost to Brock less than 24 hours later.

That's all it was, talk. Carleton seems to have an attitude that if what you did yesterday still seems big, then you cannot have done much today. Mark Masters from Streaming Sports Network Canada, who was on the beat when the Ravens had that famous win streak 4-5 years ago, recalled on the air yesterday how coach Dave Smart often downplayed it, pointing out that the school didn't count losses vs. NCAA Division 1 teams. There was a logic behind it; why count when everything resets to zero as soon as the game's over?

No one on the outside looking in can ever know for sure, but that indicates why Carleton's final two wins, over the second- and third-best teams in Canada, played out the way it did in the final weekend together for the Kingston trio of Turnbull, Rob Saunders and Aaron Doornekamp. It's convenient to say there was no way Carleton could lose after the white-knuckle ride vs. Western were spot-on, since it was such a perfect storyline. It has the accidental benefit of being right, since as Carleton has shown, they weren't going to get wrapped up in being part of an instant classic.

They played like they didn't have any laurels, so it didn't seem too worrisome when UBC was hitting shots from here and there and everywhere and staking itself to a 16-4 lead. Carleton was taking its time, figuring out UBC, waiting for the second half when they could plant the tracking device known as Rob Saunders inside 'Birds guard Chris Dyck's shirt (he scored only four of his team-high 21 points after the break with Saunders on him, and didn't make a basket in the second half until inside of the 1:20 mark). It would have been homerism writ large to say it on air, not to mention it had the potential to blow up in one's face, but when Carleton had UBC's lead down to a point at halftime, 37-36, it felt like the game was over. The Thunderbirds had lost their chance to build a lead while Turnbull and Doornekamp, a combined 2-of-10 in the first 20 minutes, were looking for their shots.

Sure enough, after the break, there they came, running off the first eight points to go ahead for good, with all eight rotation players contributing: The Kingston guys (Doornekamp ripped down three offensive rebounds in that period alone), the two starters from Ottawa, Kevin McCleery (15 points, eight rebounds; UBC didn't have an answer for him) and point guard Mike Kenny; and the bench brigade of Kyle Smendziuk, Cole Hobin and Elliot Thompson, who seemed to grow up right before everyone's eyes, although in reality all three had shown signs they could be counted on play major minutes (and, he added under his breath, with the officiating, they certainly had to).

It might have been a coincidence, but a lingering image is that when Carleton was celebrating on the floor, for a couple minutes Kyle Smendziuk had the CIS championship banner draped over his narrow shoulders like a cape. It seemed kind of symbolic, almost as if the older guys who'll be moving on had said, here, you wear this for a bit, but remember, next week you start at zero.

A couple more notes from the weekend:
  • Carleton's seventh man, Elliot Thompson, was an exemplar of efficiency, scoring 11 points in just nine minutes on 3-for-5 shooting. He didn't look like a backup when he came in, and at 6-foot-4, can elevate for a shot from the perimeter. It was noticeable during the Western game that he was adept at running out to contest three-pointers without fouling. It will be fun to watch him next season.
  • It will require going back to check for the exact quote, but CIS president Marg McGregor did address the issue of having two OUA teams meet in the quarter-finals. It all comes down to clarity; some people believe it's absolutely not allowed and some believe it's merely to be avoided if possible (it's the latter). She suggested there would be some direction that it not happen again.
  • If you need someone to give you a push in order to be great, then UBC and Western held up their end of the bargain admirably. Both of those teams were capable.
  • Any and all suggestions on how to better spend the four-hour block on Saturday taken up by two consolation side games are welcome. One suggestion: Hold an all-star game (most of the country's best players on non-tournament teams are in town for the all-Canadian awards) and a skills competition. Have a bronze-medal game on Sunday. Ottawa and Concordia played a very entertaining consolation game, but Calgary-Western for a bronze medal would have been off the hook.
  • The Fates have a wicked sense of humour. Imagine if you had been told Carleton and Ottawa would make it to the final Sunday, only they wouldn't play each other.

    Dax Dessureault, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds in his Gee-Gees valedictory, an 83-76 conso-game win over Concordia, will be sorely missed, and so with the other five-year man, captain David Labentowicz.

    In terms of replacing them, Nemanja (Nemo) Baletic had a good second half of the season, while centre Louis Gauthier made a couple plays yesterday where it was easy to confuse him with Big Dax.

  • It is among the site's sworn goals that by the time next season, Ottawa guard Warren Ward will be known as "Worldwide" Ward. He has that much potential.
  • Some big ups have to go to Andrew Bucholtz, Jared Book and Rob Pettapiece for running the liveblogs all weekend at

    Rob, no word of a lie, got to Scotiabank Place about 30 minutes before the UBC-Calgary semi-final after travelling from Toronto and was up and running within about 15 minutes, since some clod of an editor didn't realize how rushed he'd been getting there. (Who was that guy?)

  • Ernestown Secondary School turns 50 years old next year, but it pretty much was a mini-reunion by times. A quick roll call: On the premises by times were 1996 grad Adnan Virk working as The Score's sideline reporter, '97 grad Rob Smart coaching for Carleton, Aaron Doornekamp playing for the Ravens, Donnie Gibson playing for Ottawa, along with Aaron's siblings, Amy, Ben and Nate and cousin Mike Smart, a star on Carleton's '03-05 championship teams, out in support of their kin. All of them played on high school teams coached by Tom Turnbull, Stu's dad. It's worth mentioning now, since Aaron was the last one in the Eagles-to-Ravens pipeline that began with Rob and carried on with Mike, Ben and Jessica Smart.
Last but not least, thank you so much to readers who took time over the weekend to say some very nice things about OOLF and

(Photo by Rob Pettapiece)

Carleton wins sixth CIS basketball title in seven years (Wayne Kondro, Ottawa Citizen)
Ravens rule CIS roost again (Shane Ross, Sun Media)
Dax all, folks ... Dessureault goes out a winner with GGs
(Shane Ross, Sun Media)

1 comment:

Andrew Bucholtz said...

That Ernestown mafia is ridiculous; it makes Queen's connections pale by comparison. You guys clearly control the CIS basketball world. By the way, as mentioned last night, I love the idea of an all-star game and skills competition. Not much point in a fifth-place game if you're not going to play for third place.