Core Sports

The come up: started from the recreational system

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By Ashly July

On the night of the 2015-2016 OCAA Men’s Basketball Awards banquet, Jaz Bains sat confidently waiting for his name to be called, and it was called more than any other. The St. Lawrence point guard was crowned OCAA Player of the Year and East Division Scoring Champion. He was also named a CCAA All-Canadian, and OCAA East Division First-Team All-Star, all while leading the OCAA in scoring, assists and steals.

But Bains’ night of glory, and his season of dominance was the culmination of a basketball journey that began in the ranks of the recreational system. Prior to the 2015-2016 season, Bains spent two years as a member of the extramural basketball team at Humber College in Toronto, an experience he says helped him develop his game and be ready when his number was called.

“It helped me understand the game a little bit more,” he says of his time with Humber’s extramural team. “I got some in-game experience with talented players, which is really helpful with basketball.”

Many athletes at the recreation level as well as the varsity level, refer to the recreation league as rec, JV or junior varsity. Although the level of play is not quite the same as it is in varsity, it is still very competitive.

Now a two-time OCAA East Division First -Team All-Star Bains shares how his journey to success in the OCAA began.

“My first year I came into college I was playing JV and we had a good team. We were basically undefeated [and] we didn’t really lose any games. We had a good experience, we won our first three tournaments. In the second half, a few of our players went up to varsity and we weren’t as good but we were still competitive.”

Bains, much like most of his teammates, had aspirations of playing varsity and he says that he always believed he could play, and possibly thrive at the varsity level. He also says that being cut only fueled his work ethic, making him commit to becoming a better all-around player and athlete, while biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to showcase his talent.

“I’ve been cut before and it’s not a big deal. It’s just working hard and getting to your goals.”

He also says there came a point where he realized that the opportunity he was waiting for might come from where he least expected it.

“Sometimes you’re just not in the right spot, and you gotta leave and go to a different area to make sure that your abilities are showcased and that’s basically what I did.”

“Watching the games I always felt like ‘I should be playing’ but obviously I wasn’t meant for that system.”

Bains’ search for a system he did fit into led to him transferring from Humber to St. Lawrence College in Kingston where the coaching staff gave him the confidence and freedom that is necessary to have the kind of breakout rookie season he did.

“The program believed in my abilities to begin with,” he says.  “The hard work pays off. I didn’t really think that I was as good before as I am now, but winning awards is a good feeling.”

The rec sports governed by the Ontario Colleges Committee on Campus Recreation (OCCCR) hosts extramural tournaments for core sports including men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, as well as ice hockey, ultimate frisbee and indoor soccer.

According to the OCAA there are currently more than 4,000 student-athletes playing varsity sports in the province. Many of the highest level players are recruited by one or more schools, and their roster spots are all but guaranteed. At the more competitive schools the chances of being a walk-on are usually very slim. Being one of the top basketball programs in the country, Humber College’s men’s basketball team is no different.

For players like 23-year-old Humber guard Patrick Falduti, his time playing rec helped him earn a spot on the varsity team, while staying in shape mentally and physically.

“It was good, it got me back into the game because I had a little bit of a setback not playing. It was good though, it got me back into the flow of things and just got me comfortable on the court again.” he says.

Playing at the varsity level at a program as storied as Humber is something that Falduti considers to be an honour, while crediting his time playing JV with his success.

“I would definitely say I’m very proud of myself. It’s something that I’ve always wanted, and if I didn’t play junior varsity last year I probably wouldn’t have gotten to this level, which is the level I’ve wanted to play at ever since I was a little kid.”

Though he is very happy about his accomplishment, Falduti says one of the toughest parts about the transition from playing recreational basketball to varsity, is having to accept a diminished role.

“The transition it’s tough,” said the first-year guard.

“I was coming from junior varsity, which is a level that was still competitive, but for me I was able to really hold my own, and I was kind of the go-to guy but now on varsity you have to own a role.”

Some colleges have taken to using the recreation league as a sort of farm-team system similar to major league baseball, the NHL and now the NBA with the D-league.

To build a sense of continuity, basketball programs like Centennial, Seneca, Sheridan and Humber, appoint a varsity assistant coach to be the head coach of their JV team, in hopes of making the transition as smooth as possible. This also gives the coaches a chance to thoroughly develop and evaluate a players for a half, or in some cases a full season.

There are many advantages to this approach, the least of which is a chance for the players to build a rapport with a member of the varsity coaching staff, as well as familiarize themselves with much of the offensive and defensive concepts that will be used at the varsity level.

Seneca College men’s basketball coach Darrell Glenn shares how his program has made use of the recreational system.

“Our King campus team, our Newnham team and our Seneca-York teams are all coached by varsity coaches that are with our program, so the coaches will run the same things with the extramural teams that we’re running with our varsity teams.

Coach Glenn explains how this builds a sense of comfort for his players.

“If there’s ever a situation where we need to bring someone up they’re familiar with the language and they’re familiar with the system because they’re doing the same stuff.

Falduti says that Humber’s approach is similar to Seneca’s.

“The offence and even a little bit of the defence is very similar, but there’s obviously new things that I learned.”

The season for sports like volleyball and basketball spans both fall and winter semesters, so it is sometimes the case that players don’t make it through the entire season, whether it be due to injuries, academic reasons or other factors.

Coach Glenn and the Seneca Sting  found themselves in that position earlier this year. After going 7-1 in the first semester, his roster was depleted to only eight players heading into the crucial second half of the season.

Coach Glenn says the decision to add players was necessary to bolster his team’s roster and keep them competitive.

“We lost some players over the break, and then shortly after the break we lost three more players. So I asked them if there was anybody on any of their teams that we might be able to bring up that might be able to help us.”

Any good team is a balance of not only talent, but personalities. When a team is clicking it’s always a risk adding new personalities to the mix. Chemistry on and off the floor is key factor in how well any team does, and Glenn says he was hesitant to add a new face to his team mid-season.

“I was very apprehensive about doing it initially, but we were in a situation where we only had eight guys and I just thought from a practice standpoint in case somebody gets hurt, we really have to potentially have another person.”

Now in his second-year coaching Seneca’s team, Glenn says he and his staff took a long look at his potential call-ups.

“I had a lot of discussions with the coaches and then when they gave me some names and we talked a little bit about their personalities, we just decided that certain guys just weren’t a good fit.”

Glenn stressed that he and his staff are much more concerned with building positive locker room and team culture, than they are with simply winning games.

The Seneca Sting eventually decided to bring just one player up to the varsity level, first-year guard Eric Landry. Glenn says it was important for him to give Eric a realistic sense of what his new addition’s varsity experience would be like.

“I really painted a pretty gloomy picture for him. You’re probably never gonna play in the games. We’re gonna expect you to be at every practice. You’re gonna lose a year of eligibility, even though you’re gonna be with the team for a little over a month. Is this something that you really want to do?”

This is often the reality being called up from the recreation level to varsity, but luckily for Jaz Bains he moved to a program that believed in his talent and gave him the opportunity to excel, and Bain’s journey is not over. He went from playing at the recreation level to becoming one of the best current players in the OCAA, and his journey is far from over.

“Next year I’m going to the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) and I want to be successful at that level, so I’m just making sure I’m in shape and doing the best I can to be ready for that level.”

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