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The Smart Decision

If I told you that there is a Canadian university team that has won 72 straight Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) regular and post season games in row, would you believe me? What if I mentioned that their last defeat was on November 25th 2002 and since then they have been ranked number one in the country, would you doubt me? What if I added that they are only the sixth team in the history of the CIS to have won back to back championships? What would you say to that?

That team is the Carleton University Ravens and their winning streak is the biggest thing going on in Canadian basketball right now. What they have accomplished over the last two and half years is truly unbelievable. Yet, when you look at the Carleton Ravens, you might have to look twice because they don’t fit the typical image of a number one ranked and undefeated basketball squad. When you look at them on the court and watch how they play, there is nothing flashy that jumps out at you that says that they are the defending champions. The Ravens look like a regular basketball team. Their warm up routine is the same, nothing special: some lay-ups, a couple dunks, shots go up, shots go down – you know the routine.

So why is it that Carleton is on top? Well, you can hypothesize that it could be due to what other teams are lacking; you could even talk about luck. However, it began with a single decision that helped turn this club from an average team to a national powerhouse. That decision will forever be remembered as the “Smart decision”. David Smart, current head coach of the Carleton Ravens, is the main reason this team has achieved long standing success. The tireless worker has complied an amazing 133-16 coaching record during his first six years as bench boss and has managed to recruit some of the best players in the nation.

Dave Smart came along and changed the face and soul of this Carleton Ravens basketball team. He nurtured and developed the team into the dynasty we see before our eyes today. Even if they suffer a loss by the time you read this, which probably won’t happen, you still cannot take away their amazing story and all of the inconceivable feats that they have achieved to this point. The fact that we are writing our main cover story on them should suggest enough. But let’s move on now and get into what Dave Smart has brought to the table.

“DAVE SMART CAME ALONG AND CHANGED THE FACE AND SOUL OF THIS CARLETON RAVENS BASKETBALL TEAM. HE NURTURED AND DEVELOPED THE TEAM INTO THE DYNASTY WE SEE BEFORE OUR EYES TODAY.”

The first thing that Dave Smart did with the team was to teach them discipline, something that most teams in the CIS don’t have. I don’t think I have ever seen a team more disciplined than the Ravens. This discipline is one of the major factors for their success, especially when it comes to closing games. You never see the Ravens panic. It’s as though they are programmed robots, set on calm and destroy mode. They just get it done! This robotic character can be observed during all of their games, but one game in particular, where it was really evident, was on February 8th 2005. It was on that day that the Ravens had a date with their cross-town rivals, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, inside the brand new Ravens Nest facility.

The Carleton Ravens led most of the game, but the Ottawa Gee-Gees managed to turn it around and take a one point lead with just under a minute left in the game. Carleton’s winning streak was on the line and they were on the verge of losing their first game in their new building. You could sense the butterflies in the Carleton fans, but not in Dave Smart or his team. The Ravens then indbounded the ball to senior Mike Smart who calmly let the shot clock wind down to less thant 10 seconds. He then made his move and blew past his defender and put up a wicked left hander, oooh. The outcome of that game? Nothing different from the last 71 games. The Robots a.k.a. the Ravens, won in their classic composed fashion. You want to talk some more about composure and closing out games? Check this out, during Carleton’s first championship run 2002 – 2003 season, they won all of their three sudden death games by less than three points – including the championship game against the University of Guelph.

But it doesn’t end there, there is more to Dave Smart that a lot of people might not know. For one, he puts a lot into game preparations. Firstly, he spends more time than the average coach watching game footage. Secondly, having been a player at Queens University, where he led the OUA in scoring, coach Smart understands the game from not only a player’s perspective, but from that of a competitive and dominating player’s. It’s no wonder that the Carleton Ravens play with such confidence and it’s not hard to understand how they manage to dominate the league. Thirdly, a fortunate occurrence that allows Smart to acquire players that will fit into his squad is that the Carleton coach often scouts his players personally. More importantly however, he often brings on players that he has already coached, such as players from his Ottawa Guardsmen club team.

In terms of how he engages the team, coach Smart is very demanding of his players, in particular, he highly encourages team play. This is likely one of the reasons why the Carleton ball club plays so efficiently as a unit. But a personal attribute that Dave Smart possesses which appears to only benefit the team, is his lack of ability to be content. He is never satisfied. This leaves him always wanting and achieving more. This is something you can almost smell from his players, either that or they’ve been winning too many games without doing a wash. On top of all this, Dave Smart is beyond dedicated to the game. Coach Smart never stops thinking about basketball, for him, basketball is life. When someone has such dedication and passion, you can’t help but listen to him and believe in his system. This is probably one of the main reasons why the Raven’s players have so much faith and obedience to the system coach Smart has provided them. By the looks of it, this system, structured around tough defence, team play, and pick & rolls, has all the right ingredients.

But, and you know there is always a but, this Carleton Ravens squad would not be the same, and would most likely not be undefeated, if it wasn’t for their dynamic duo of Mike Smart and Osvaldo Jeanty. Mike Smart, #3 who can hit the 3, can gather up rebounds with his height, penetrate to the basket, and a whole lot more. At 6-4, this Commerce student really means business. He has deceiving speed for his size, and a shot that will make his opponents cry if he’s given more than a second to shoot. Once that ball is released, the defence is deceased! If I could describe Mike Smart in but a few words, it would be a calm and collected sharp-shooter with handles. Ironically, Mike Smart is also an extremely smart player; he knows when to take a game into his own hands, as well as when to pass the rock. Add to this that he is a natural born leader – it must run in the family.

While Mike doesn’t know what pressure is, Osvaldo Jeanty does, because it’s what he puts on his defenders – pressure with a capital P. The 6-0 guard, out of Gloucester Ontario, has truly come a long way since his rookie year. The confident young man predicted that he would win 5 straight championships at Carleton, so far he is on the right path, with the Ravens having won back to back championships, and having just finished another undefeated season. You can pretty much bank on it that they are the early favorites to win a third straight championship.

Jeanty is just one tough player that never quits. He has the ability to hit the big shots down the stretch and is never afraid to shoot. Probably why Osvaldo was named the CIS Final 10 MVP in his rookie season when he scored 22 points in the championship game. He followed that up with a nearly perfect game for the Ravens on their second championship where he earned player of the game honors by leading all scorers with 20 points. Jeanty was 5 for 5 from the floor, including 3 from 3 beyond the arc, while he netted 7 of 8 free-throw attempts. Not bad huh, forget that, that’s amazing! But there are some things that statistics just can’t show, and Jeanty’s determination is one of them. He is just so persistent it’s incredible, it’s almost as though he’s possessed.

Now with all of that said, we’ve only mentioned 3 of the people that make up this Carleton Ravens team that are keeping the dynasty alive. We must, and I mean must, give credit to the rest of the Carleton squad because they are the supporting cast that sets the screens, runs the plays, passes the ball at the perfect time, and who also take the big shots when needed. One of the impressive things about Carleton is that all of their guys can step up, however, they chose to play their roles because they all know that’s how the system works, by making sure that everyone plays as a team while making sure they play their individual roles too.

As a team, they also have a great deal of mental toughness, and that’s what wins ball games. When things get down to the wire, and your body is ready to give out, it’s your mind that says nope, not yet, I’m in control here. Every player on the Carleton roster has that ability, to keep pushing for the entire game right until the final buzzer. This is a large part of the reason why there aren’t many teams that can play at their pace. Carleton plays 40 minutes of ball, other teams play 32 or 35, when you take those little breaks, Carleton comes at you, and your team falls apart. In addition to all of this, pretty much everyone on the team can shoot, and shoot well. With the exception of 2-3 players who excel in other areas, Carleton’s squad is made up of a bunch of sharp shooters. So a little word of advice to the competition, if a Raven has the ball, don’t let him shoot. If you do, you can expect to get subbed out for allowing an uncontested basket.

Lastly, we can’t forget all of the great talent that has passed through the Carleton team and allowed the younger players to develop and learn in their presence. Talented players such as Rob Smart, Jafeth Maseruka, Josh Poirier and Paul Larmand, just to name a few. It was players such as these that set the bar and acted as role models for the younger players that lead the team today. Furthermore, if you’re going to talk about this undefeated Carleton squad, you have to also give credit to the supporting cast of assistant coaches: Taffe Charles, Andy Sparks, Aaron Blakley and former Raven court star himself, Rob Smart. All of these people combined produce the #1 ranked, most likely to 3-peat, Carleton Ravens dynasty that we see before us today.

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