[W]ith the Ryerson Rams basketball season set to start this weekend, Harlan Nemerofsky sizes up the five newest faces on the men’s team, none of whom stand below 6′ 4”, leading many to have heady expectations for the Rams, a year after making they made a surprise run to the CIS Final Eight.
Yannick WALCOTT – Combo Guard, 6’4″ 210 lbs.
[Y]annick Walcott has been out of basketball for so long that his decision to take to the hardcourt again seems strange. Stranger still that the former standout Dalhousie combo guard will be playing his first varsity ball in three years with a Rams team that made it into the CIS Final Eight last season.
Much like his new teammate, York transfer Ostap Choliy, Walcott chose Ryerson because of its academic benefits more-so than a pure basketball move. His focus this season is on finishing a business degree, but also finishing with a championship would not be so bad.
Make no mistake, the 6′ 4” Walcott was a high school star. His eyebrow-raising performances led the Northern Red Knights to an Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations playoff appearance in 2007, before a move to Dalhousie University saw him net AUS All-Rookie honours in 2008.
Now 24 years old, Walcott spent last year out of school altogether, and the Toronto native admits it will be a tough transition back to a full university life. “It’s going to be a challenge for me to get back into that mind frame where I balance school, basketball, and now work on top of that.”
Over the past two years Walcott has worked as a WestJet Customer Service agent, and spent days traveling around the world, to places like Cuba, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Barbados. Yet the hulking deep-three threat is ready to drop the baggage and pick up the books before he hits the court.
“Prioritising is very important now that I’m back in school,” he says. Walcott plans on spending at least two hours each day on schoolwork, and his rules are simple; “The most important thing is education. After that basketball, and then work.”
His ability to abide by those rules will determine whether Walcott leaves Ryerson with a degree for his wall, and just maybe, a trophy for his cabinet.
[M]atthew Beckford was a “diamond in the rough,” a title given him by Rams coach Roy Rana in one of their recruitment interviews. The former Mississauga Monarchs centre also attended Monsignor Percy Johnson Secondary School, where his play went relatively unnoticed for two years.
“I flew under the radar because nobody else could see me play.” He averaged over 20 points per game in his first two years, calling himself “the face of the franchise.” Yet he was hardly getting noticed because the basketball program was very weak. “My parents wouldn’t let me go to Father Henry Carr (the school he was zoned for, which had an above-average basketball program) because of the rough area. Instead I went to another high school which had no basketball coaches whatsoever.”
Beckford was eventually discovered in Grade 11 during a basketball showcase at Humber College with the Monarchs. “You could call that my coming out party,” he says. “That’s when people started talking about me. But to be honest, I didn’t even play that good in the game,” he jokes.
His game was enough to impress North Pole Hoops writer Tariq Sbiet, who wrote about Beckford, which forever altered his career, because that same night Roy Rana saw Sbiet’s post and gave Beckford a call. “Without, him [Sbiet], I probably wouldn’t be at Ryerson right now. I think he saw something in me I didn’t see.”
The confidence shown in him by Sbiet and Rana gave Beckford the motivation he needed to put in a harder physical effort, and he got big, real big. At 6′ 6″ and 255 pounds he became a human garbage collector under the rim, scoring 35 plus points a game because he no longer hated fighting for rebounds.
His strength under the rim, means Beckford will be given every opportunity to start games as a rookie this season for a Rams side that lacked size in the post last season.
Kyle HANKINS – Combo Forward, 6’7″ 215 lbs.
[I]n the flash of a second, Kyle Hankins’ career was thrown off track. Playing at a tournament in Kentucky with the Etobicoke Elite, Hankins found himself isolated in a one-on-one fast break. As he went up for the basket, Hankins says the American defender took out his legs mid-air, sending him crashing to the hardwood. “I landed only on my right shoulder…That was the most painful thing I ever felt before.” He suffered a broken shoulder, which would keep him out of basketball for five months, a potential life-sentence for a young prospect.
“It’s been a recurring problem ever since I broke it,” he says. “Usually after an intense game or workout, I feel twinges and stuff just because of the degree of the injury. It’s come up at least 100 times since the actual injury.”
But that didn’t hinder Hankins, who said that despite the near regular pain, he was able to mentally outsmart the physical shoulder pops. Hankins continued to play basketball for the Regional Elite Development Academy under head coach Terry Upshaw, where he would be discovered by Rams coach Roy Rana.
Rana did not have to do much convincing. Hankins said he was highly influenced in coming to Ryerson because of the rich history and fantastic sporting facilities in the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens.
The 6’7″ combo forward out of Burlington, Ont. comes to Ryerson having graduated from St. Mary’s, his fourth high school in five years. The successive moves have done nothing to hamper Hankins’ elite speed and vertical jump, traits which have him rank amongst the best shooting guards in the country.
Juwon GRANNUM – Combo Forward, 6’7″ 215 lbs.
[J]uwon Grannum played in the Ontario Basketball Association for six years on the Rep team, Baller Basketball. For two of those years (2008 – 2010), Grannum counted Jahmal Jones and Greg Osawe among his team-mates. This year the 6’7″ combo guard will team up again with Jones and Osawe as a member of the Ryerson Rams. He even turned down a spot on Dave Smart’s 34-0 Carleton Ravens to play with the blue and gold.
“We want to be the team that takes down Carleton. I don’t want to just go to a team and sit on the bench and then we win,” said the 18 year-old.
The Mississauga, Ont. native spent five years at high school, taking the extra year to hone his basketball skills at Orangeville District Secondary School. “I think I did the extra year just to mature for the next level of basketball,” he said. I didn’t take too many courses last year, it was strictly about maturing as a basketball player.”
Some people might think taking an extra year in order to play basketball shows a lack of academic commitment, but Grannum is a bright kid off the court as well, scoring an amazing 1540 on his SAT’s.
His combination of size, strength and smarts had teams clamouring to sign him, and Grannum subsequently received five CIS offers including from rivals Carleton, the University of Toronto, and Queens.
Despite Hoopster Canada rating Grannum as the eighth best forward in the nation, basketball did not always come that easily for him. It was not until the latter half of Grade 11 when Grannum decided he wanted to play basketball for the rest of his life. Before then, he describes himself as an often passive player who did not always give a full effort performance.
“I kind of took it upon myself to just play better. I knew that my team needed me in order to win.” His game is one of silky three’s and a huge reach which helps him pull down rebounds, and will make him an important part of Rana’s plans this year.
Ultimately, Grannum thinks he made the right decision in choosing the blue and gold for this season. “I think everything happens for a reason and I’m glad to be here at Ryerson.”
*Full Disclosure: In the previous version of this article we incorrectly stated that Grannum had played with Jones, Osawe, and Aaron Best for the Mississauga Monarchs. We apologise for the publication of that falsity. The article has since been revised to include the correct information.
Ostap CHOLIY – Shooting Guard, 6’5″ 190 lbs.
[A]t York University Ostap Choliy was an OUA East All-Rookie as a freshman. As a sophomore Choliy improved statistically in every major category, and proved himself an elite three-point shooting sensation. Then, instead of playing his third year, Choliy left the Lions to focus more on his education, playing only intramural ball while studying for business management.
This season Choliy left York altogether, to be a part of a top basketball recruiting class at Ryerson, though his decision was based more on academic reasons.
“I was in a program at York that I didn’t really like,” Choliy said. “Business management wasn’t something I enjoyed taking and, often, I had troubles focusing.” By the time Choliy decided to switch schools, several teams had shown interest in the 6’5″ guard, in part because he’d made a name for himself shooting 38 per cent from three-ball land as a sophomore.
Yet it was not always that easy for him to be recognized. Choliy took an extra year to complete high school, not for academic purposes- his marks were in the mid-80s- but to build a reputation for himself.
“Getting into the CIS level of basketball, that’s where I had a problem, because no one knew about me. My high school was just starting out and we hadn’t really accomplished much, so no one really knew us and we hadn’t had much exposure,” he says.
But it was during that fifth year of high school where he made sure he finally got a good look. He emailed university coaches, asking them to come see him play, donned the C as Loyola Hawks Captain, and that very year won the Halton Championship.
Last year, four schools contacted Choliy, and the shooting guard easily chose Ryerson. “It’s closer to home, and I really like the academic program. I talked to Rana and other guys on the team and I think I’ll enjoy it.”