At Redeemer, bas­ket­ball’s David has be­come a Go­liath

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

Mid­way through his rookie year, his abysmal Redeemer Roy­als were on their way to a per­fect sea­son — per­fect as in 0-18 — when they made their an­nual stop at the home of the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Hum­ber Hawks.

This pre­or­dained butt-whup­pin’ was al­ways a high­light of the sea­son (again, sar­casm) for the guys from the tiny Chris­tian col­lege in An­caster. One time, they lost by just eight points; but gen­er­ally the an­nual beat-down was more of a mer­ci­less evis­cer­a­tion. One time the spread was 38. An­other time it was 41. There was even one gap of 64 points.

So how did it go that evening in the fall of 2010?

Benn Ibrahim pauses. Then pauses some more.

Then holds his si­lence a lit­tle longer, his smile grow­ing with each pass­ing sec­ond.

“Is that enough said?” he laughs.

He can chuckle about it today. Be­cause the small­est school in the On­tario Colleges Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion has sud­denly turned the ta­bles and is now play­ing the role of hoops gi­ant. One-time sad-sack, Redeemer is 5-0 head­ing into a Wed­nes­day evening show­down with Ni­a­gara Col­lege and a chance to ex­tend its best start ever.

The school that was once cir­cled on other teams’ cal­en­dar as Every­one-Gets-To-Play-Be­cause-We’reGo­ing-To-Win-By-30-Night — the coach ad­mits as much — fol­lowed a 13-point open­ing-night win over Mo­hawk, with wins of 16, 25 and 16 points. This, af­ter a pre-sea­son in which they crushed nearly every­one they played.

Then ev­ery­thing that had been achieved so far was eclipsed with a five-point up­set of the pre­vi­ously un­beaten Hawks, the first time in school his­tory Redeemer had ever beaten Hum­ber.

No­body ever thought of the Roy­als as a le­git­i­mate bas­ket­ball pow­er­house. They are now.

“It’s kind of ex­cit­ing,” says fifthyear guard Rayvon Hig­don. “It’s a change we’ve been work­ing to­ward for a long time.”

There was no doubt that things were head­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion last sea­son, when the school made the post-sea­son and then won its first-ever play­off game. A good bit of that can be chalked up to the ex­cel­lence of Hig­don, who was named On­tario player of the year. The school has never had a player like him.

But in the off-sea­son, the six­foot-six Ibrahim de­cided to re­turn to the school af­ter a three-year ab-

sence to use his fi­nal year of el­i­gi­bil­ity. Then Zack An­gus, who’d been an OUA all-star at the Univer­sity of Guelph, de­cided to un­re­tire af­ter a three-year ab­sence and use his fi­nal year of el­i­gi­bil­ity. Also at Redeemer.

Throw in fresh­man point guard Eli­jah Los­tracco, who’s sev­enth in the prov­ince in as­sists, and you’ve got the mak­ings of a com­pelling ros­ter.

“Now we are ac­tu­ally wear­ing teams down with our depth,” says head coach Jamie Giro­lametto. “That has never hap­pened in our school’s his­tory.”

The re­sults are get­ting no­ticed. The Roy­als are now the sec­on­dranked team in On­tario — again, that’s never hap­pened — and are re­ceiv­ing plenty of love at home.

Prior to the start of the school year, Redeemer’s ath­let­ics depart­ment launched a cam­paign to set an OCAA at­ten­dance record across all its sports. So there’s been a push to get fans more in­volved from Day One. Even so, the crowd at the home opener at the be­gin­ning of the month sur­prised even the coach.

“It was full and it was loud,” Giro­lametto says. “It was fan­tas­tic.”

When top-ranked and de­fend­ing cham­pion Sheridan rolls into town on Dec. 1 for a Fri­day night show­down — the Roy­als beat the Bru­ins 92-86 in a pre-sea­son game — the gym is likely to be a red-and-white mad­house.

It’s all rather thrilling for a school that’s new to this level of ex­cel­lence in one of the most-prom­i­nent sports. Ibrahim says that. An­gus says that. Hig­don says that. That joy is height­ened by the fact that in­sid­ers across the coun­try placed them at an un­prece­dented No. 6 on the new na­tional rank­ings re­leased on Tues­day.

Things are go­ing so well that they’re be­gin­ning to think big. Knock­ing off Hum­ber was a huge mo­ment. But af­ter last year’s taste of post-sea­son suc­cess and this year’s fast start, they’re not be­ing shy about what they re­ally want.

“We want to hang two ban­ners up on the walls here,” Giro­lametto says. “We want to win the OCAAs and the na­tion­als.”

That’s a huge dream. Does David truly be­lieve it can beat all the Go­liaths that in the past have crushed it so eas­ily? The coach doesn’t even flinch. “We think we’re fi­nally built to do that.”

CATHIE COW­ARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Rayvon Hig­son and his Redeemer team­mates have a pre­vi­ously un­heard of goal set for the team.

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