At Redeemer, basketball’s David has become a Goliath
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.”
Rayvon Higson and his Redeemer teammates have a previously unheard of goal set for the team.