With the Ides of March Madness upon us, one man seems to be at the epicentre of many young Canucks chasing that One Shining Moment beneath the 49th-parallel.
Today is the eve of many a Big Dance dream being shattered and powerhouses upset as conference tournaments and, for some, college careers end before Selection Sunday.
Canadian Junior Men's and Ryerson Rams Men's head basketball coach Roy Rana is no stranger to winning on almost every level, having been instrumental in the growth of some of the top players who will play in the 2014 NCAA Tournament .
I sat down with Coach Rana to better understand his journey and connection to eras past, present and future in Canadian basketball, as we all prepare to fill out brackets for a chance at a cool billion of Warren Buffett's dollars, win office pools, while giving the impression of productivity at work, and cheer on our favorite teams.
Is perception about the level of play/competition in Canadian high school ball changing at all?
Dramatically. There is a serious respect internationally for the talent we produce here. It used to feel like people looked at Canada as a third-world basketball country, but I believe we've answered a lot of questions there. There is a general perception that the level is down, mostly because many of our best head off to Findlay [Prep] in Vegas or other prep schools in the US for higher end competition and visibility. But many credible, hard-working, talented young players are making names for themselves in this country, too.
By scheduling perennially exceptional NCAA teams like Wisconsin and Syracuse for his Ryerson Rams to test their mettle, Roy Rana continues to strengthen the program with an unyielding commitment to basketball in this country.
Coach Rana's ability to mold young talent was never more evident than when he led the Cadet National team to a bronze medal finish, the highest honor a Canadian team has ever achieved at the U-16 World Championships last year in Uruguay.
What made that cadet team so special?
Canada had never fielded that age group before for international play. Expectations were low. We just wanted to give our young guys a chance to compete on the international stage. They were a very exceptional group: so strong… focused… selfless… no egos whatsoever. The way they shared the ball and played the right way was great for us.
What gets you most excited about the future of the Canadian National Team system?
The depth of our talent. We're young and will take some lumps early, but the experiences will help us grow.
What are some things you'd like to see changed?
We just have to keep working, at every level: Senior National, Junior National, Cadet… every level. We have to stay hungry and never get complacent.
Are the 2016 Rio Olympics a realistic goal?
It's going to be challenging. Not many have expectations for us to do well. The experience we gain internationally in developing our system is a huge factor. We'll take our best shot and see where we land.
In addition to major coaching success internationally, Coach Rana also helped the World Select Team to back-to-back titles at the 2012 and 2013 Nike Hoop Summit vs. the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Select Team.
Beating any US team in a major basketball tournament is serious. You did it twice in a row. How?
Young men like Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, who will be incredible, as well as the multitalented Dario Saric. If you haven't heard of Exum and Saric, you will soon enough. With very little practice time together, they gelled well enough and played with the kind of effort any basketball fan would respect.
The journey thus far has taken Roy Rana all over the world, but dreams of a higher station in life and through coaching are real.
To what college coach would you compare your style?
That's a great question. I've never really thought about it. Honestly, I couldn't tell you. I really love what Billy Donovan does at Florida. I'm a big fan of Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, Bill Self at Kansas. Really admire Gregg Marshall at Wichita State for what he's done with that program. Hard to compare… These guys are in a different world.
With all of your international experience, have you ever thought about coaching abroad, say in the US, Europe or other basketball-developing ports?
Man, I always dream about learning more about my coaching abilities in different situations and circumstances. I wouldn't rule out the possibilities, but I love the city of Toronto and this country. I am blessed for what I have now and the jobs in front of me at Ryerson and within the Canadian National Team system.
What about the NBA?
That's the ultimate dream, you know? Just to be able to touch that level, contribute in my way would be incredible. It would definitely have to be the right situation… right fit…
What is Roy Rana's ultimate coaching goal?
Max out completely with what I have before me now. Everything is about my team. Any and everything else that comes my way will be as a result of efforts of a great many people, not just me alone.
At some level, Roy Rana has coached scores of players who will be chasing the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Pinning down his favorite player or team was difficult, but enlightening as Coach Rana showed Canadian love across the board.
Best player in the country is…?
Well, Doug McDermott (Creighton), with all he's done with his career, is probably the most worthy, but it's tough to pick a "best player" in the country. There are close to 10 guys in that conversation. Three Canadians in Andrew [Wiggins], Tyler [Ennis] and Nik [Stauskas]… Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle. It's very tough.
Should Andrew Wiggins really stay at Kansas for another year of seasoning?
No. If you're a top-three lottery pick and you know it, why not go? Sure, you sacrifice a bit of that college experience, which I'm sure is special to him, but if the NBA thinks you're That Guy, you go, no question.
Is Tyler Ennis ready to run an NBA team now?
No, probably not right now. Can he come in at what 19, 20 and be a contributor immediately? Absolutely. But over time in a couple years, I believe he'll be more than capable of running a team in the NBA quite well.
Name your All-Canadian NCAA team.
Can I have two first teams (laughs)? All of these young guys are great, but I'd go with Ennis, Wiggins, [Melvin] Ejim (Iowa State), Khem Berch (UNLV) and Nik Stauskas, who had a fantastic season. I coached all of them at some point, so I don't want to leave anyone out. All had incredible years in their own right: Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State), Dwight Powell (Stanford)…
Who's that darkhorse Canadian who will shine in March Madness?
DyShawn Pierre of Dayton. He fills the stats sheet. He's exciting, can do it all, multi-talented. I believe he can win a game virtually on his own in the tournament. DyShawn has real NBA potential.
Who do you think will make the Final Four?
Hopefully, four teams with Canadians on them. Then it'll be real tough for me to pick a team to win it all! I wish all the young people well, but I cheer for the Canadians!