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Walling: Coach Dave Smart the reason for Ravens' Dynasty

Alex J. Walling
3/14/2011 9:15:29 PM
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The Carleton Ravens are the greatest men's college sport dynasty in a quarter century and one of the top teams ever.

They downed the Trinity West Spartans of British Columbia on Sunday, 84-59, to capture their seventh W.P. McGee Trophy as CIS national basketball champions.That's their seventh crown in nine years, including five in a row from 2003-2007, and they've made the semi-finals nine consecutive times.  Dynasty or what?

I've followed college sport for a long time. My first event was watching a Saint Mary's football game in 1972.  That's not yesterday. My first basketball national was in Waterloo and there were only four teams then; a semi-final and the final. Saint Mary's won the school's first title ever.

I've seen many good teams and a few great ones.  Some Western teams were strong in football, like the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Toronto Varsity Blues teams in hockey, but none compare to the Carleton Ravens.

In fact, when it comes to dynasties, there are so few and right now in college sports, we have two of the best teams in the last 30 years.

In football it's Laval and in basketball it's Carleton.

We've dealt with Laval in the fall but briefly; they've won five Vanier Cups since 2003.  They are six-for-six in Vanier Cups in their brief history, winning their first in 1999. They are the only team to win six Vanier's and in such a short time and they usually crush their opponents, as they did to Calgary to win last year's title.

Carleton head coach Dave Smart is six-for-six at the Metro Centre in Halifax.

"I love it here," says Smart. And, why wouldn't he love it.  Everything seems to go his team's way when he plays here.

Smart says he likes playing in Halifax, as it doesn't have many distractions for his team.  "We love Ottawa but we are able to concentrate 100 percent on basketball on the road and that is good."

"They have owned Halifax," says Phil Currie of the Atlantic University Sport. "There six for six including five in a row."

Since their streak started in March 2003, the Ravens are 20-0 in Halifax. Talk about perfection. They won their other title in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place in 2009.

When the streak started in 2003, the players got the attention.  In the early days, names like Osvaldo Jeanty and Aaron Doornekamp come to mind but the common denominator had to be Smart.

While he would deny it, this team centres on Dave Smart.  He recruits top notch kids, while so do many other coaches, but his teams doesn't quit - they are not allowed to. It's called mental toughness.

On Sunday, the final was a rare game that Carleton dominated.  In the first half, they scored a dozen points on turnovers while not allowing any points on only three turnovers. In their championship run, they have had many games where they've had to win in the dying seconds, and almost always have.

Some of the players say:  "We play for a full 40 minutes and if we give it our all we, with the talent we have, usually win. And if we lose we know we have tried."

TSN analyst Brian Heaney, who has played and won a national crown (Acadia 65) and won three national titles as head coach with Saint Mary's (1973, 1978-79), gives Smart a lot of credit.

"His teams are so well coached and they play aggressively for 40 minutes.  On every single possession they want the ball, their defense is tenacious," says Heaney. "If there are 80 touches a game they want them all.  They never let up. They are amazing."

Heaney says a lot of coaches tell their team to play all out for 40 minutes "but to do it game-in and game-out takes something special."

Smart has devoted his life to basketball.  He lives, breathers, sleeps and eats the sport and it shows.

He can also deal with kids in such a way that they want to play for him.  Smart also coaches minor ball in Ottawa and some say that he has a feeder system.  Some kids play basketball 12 months a year, says one observer.

Heaney says "Carleton doesn't do that many things but they do them so well.  It's about execution and they execute."

Even Carleton's practices are with intensity. I once heard Smart say "you make that shot every day in practice with no problem so you can do it in a game, any game, even the title game." They practice shooting, especially three pointers, and were an amazing 10-for-20 in the first half.

"If you tie up their inside men then they kick it out to the perimeter" says Heaney" and they are deadly from that range."

So, who has the better dynasty, Victoria or Carleton?

Victoria under coach Ken Shields won from 1980-1986.  That's an unprecedented seven in a row, with the last four wins in Halifax.  In terms of consecutive championships, it is a record that may stand up for a long time.
But in terms of the length of a dynasty, Carleton may match it or even better.

Nine in a row for a semi-final berth is what Carleton achieved. They lost one to Acadia in overtime in 2008 and last year lost the semi-final to the eventual champs; the Saskatchewan Huskies. That's a remarkable accomplishment.

This year was to be an "off year" because of the loss of some key players through graduation. Try again, because Smart found the players who can work as a team.
The team went 22-1 in regular season, losing their final game of the year after they had procured a CIS Final 8 berth.

Only fifth-year guard Michael Kenny remains from the 2007 team that won at the Metro Centre.   Smart got the rookie of the year in Philip Scrubb of Richmond B.C., and the CIS MVP Tyson Hinz of Fredericton, who is only in his second year.

While they do have good solid players, they play as a great team.  The ten guys contribute and we saw that in this tourney with six different Ravens making at least one three point shot.  They hit seven of their first 11 from the three point range and finished with 16 three-pointers, a tournament high, while four players had double-digits in the final. The Ravens led the CIS in three-point shooting this year with a cool 40.5 percent.

On Friday night, Thomas Scrubb came off the bench and made a difference.  All players can do the job and in the final, reserve Kevin Churchill played a key role.

So a season ends with an incredible 25-1 record; nearly perfect and the future with Hinz and the Scrubbs looks bright.  The dynasty could continue for a few years yet.
Oh, and one more thing.  Heaney says Carleton, Smart and his coaches are a credit to the sport.

"They dress well, don't badger the officials and respect the game. They are real champs."

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca




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