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Walling: Smart is reason for Carleton's Perfection

Alex J. Walling
3/12/2012 8:28:13 PM
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The Carleton Ravens are perfect. That's the best way to describe them.

If this were a tennis match we would say game, set and match to the Carleton Ravens but since they are a basketball team we say, 21-0 in the regulation season and 34-0 for everything else including this year's CIS Men's title won Sunday.

The Carleton Ravens won this year's title by defeating the Alberta Golden Bears 86-67 in Halifax, capturing their eighth title in the last 10 years.  In the process they achieved, to the delight of their coach Dave Smart, perfection.

In the title game they led after the first quarter 31-17. At halftime, they were up 52-32 after shooting 61%.

After three quarters it was 76-48 and the final score was 86-67, a 29 point win over the number two team in the country.

The game was never in doubt. The Ravens took the lead around the two minute mark and built from there.

And, so the Ravens tie the CIS mark for championship crowns with eight. They are seven for seven in Halifax, where they are 23-0 over the years and 8-0 in championship finals.

 It's amazing to think that 10 years ago the Ravens were practically unheard in college basketball in this country. Now, it seems that most teams think it an honour playing them and are mainly interested in keeping the game close, as winning against the Ravens is out of the question.

In this tourney both Acadia and the Fraser Valley Cascades kept up for a while; but that's the key, a while.

Nobody it seems can keep up with Carleton for most of the game.  Acadia kept it close until the end of the third quarter.  It was 54-50 for Carleton after three quarters and then the Ravens starting sinking three's with guard Errol Thompson nailing four straight and the game was over.

Against Fraser Valley the Cascades kept it close for a while but come the third quarter it was over.

This is college basketball and many cases the games are decided in the final minute or even final seconds of the game but not with the Ravens.  Lakehead University had a close game with the Ravens this year.  Carleton won by three points.  Carleton didn't take the lead until six minutes left in the game.

Six whole minutes, that's an eternity in basketball.

This season's team has the Rookie of the year from last season, and the most outstanding player this season, 19 year old Philip Scrubb.  Scrubb is complimented by last year's most outstanding player Tyson Hinz.  

There are 40 schools that play CIS basketball, so the mathematical odds of having the Most Outstanding player are 1 in 40.  What are the odds in having two on the court, on the same team, at the same time? Very slim.  And don't discount on a third one coming in the next few years as there are a few candidates on the Ravens team that could win that award.

Just watching Carleton play brings a lot of questions and the first one is where does that intensity come from, that drive to compete at a ferocious level for a whole game?   The answer is simple; it comes from head coach Dave Smart.

Allen Iverson, the former NBA star and Smart would not get along.

"Practice." as Iverson once famously said, "it's only 'practice'.  Well at Carleton, practice is everything.

"If you saw me at practice you may think I'm insane," is what Smart told TSN.ca this weekend.

I was at the tourney. I was literally five-feet or less from Smart.  Smart on the bench was sitting at the edge and I at the media table at courtside at the end.

I spent the afternoon watching him during the Acadia game.

His peers say he is an intense competitor.  Some of his players that I spoke with say "he is the most competitive man in the world".

70 times (yest I counted),  he got up during the Acadia game to pace, give directions and yell from the middle of the court.

He was hoarse.  I had a hard time hearing him but there he was coaching, pointing and gesturing what he wanted done.

With seven seconds left in the Acadia game, and his team up by 15 points, and a quarter final win in his pocket someone did something wrong on the floor. 

WHACK!  His hand almost hit mine as he smashed the press table.

Now, the game had seven seconds left. But he was mad about something.

I asked him what the problem was and he told me "they made a mistake'.  I don't have a clue what mistake could be made with seven seconds left and a guard bringing a ball up the backcourt, but something riled him.

As for coaches who have influenced him he says "my father first, then Ken Shields".  Shields was involved in the Canadian basketball team and coached the University of Victoria Viking and won seven titles in a row.  Smart and his Ravens tied that mark this weekend.

I thought seven titles in a row was an impossible these days with the competition and recruiting.  I no longer think it is unreachable.  Carleton and Smart could reach it.

His practices are intense.  He held one at the Metro Centre before the first game and the first whistle blew around the 10 second mark.  He wasn't pleased with something.

"The practices always simulate game situations," say the Ravens.  Maybe that is why there is so much success with this team.  They practice as if everything is always on the line.

I remember a quote from Smart seven or eight years ago that caught my attention.   "You make that shot every day in practice so you should make it in the game."

The players, more than any team I have covered in decades of covering sports, put the team first.   The most outstanding player this year is Scrubb.  He admits that he would not have won the award without his teammates.

Carleton, if anything, stands to be stronger over the next few years because they've started to recruit all over the country.

"They are now getting good high school players who want to win a national title, calling Dave Smart," a veteran coach told TSN.ca.  "That makes recruitment better."

Smart had had more success than any coach in Canadian college in 30 years.  Other than the Victoria from 1980 to 1986 the Vikings won seven straight times.  Smart has won eight of ten.

Carleton lost one game last year and none this year.  Has that ever been done?

I've watched Dave Smart since he came to the Metro Centre in 2003.

But I hardly see him smile.

He is so intense that I wonder if he gets a chance to savor the victories because as soon as a game is won he starts thinking about the next battle.

In the final at halftime against Alberta the announcer asked him if he had the game won.  I mean he was ahead by 20 points and everything was working.

"No way, Alberta is rated number two in the country.  They can come back if they get an opening," he said.

There was no opening.

Intense, focused, doesn't smile; does he enjoy any of the wins?

"He enjoys the process," a fellow coach from Carleton told me.

One thing is for sure and that is no matter how hard he drives his student-athletes the team supports him.

"He's the best coach I ever had," Tyson Hinz says "I learn something every day from him," to "he always our interest at heart," responds another player.

Dave Smart and the Carleton Ravens will be favoured to win their ninth title next season, and they are playing on home turf in Ottawa.

The question seems to be will they win by 25 or 30 points?

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

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




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