Q&A: Canada coach Roy Rana talks gold medal, relationship with Calipari

Roy Rana is one of the most decorated coaches in Canadian basketball history.

A legendary high school coach at Toronto powerhouse Eastern Commerce, Rana won four provincial titles and saw his team ranked as the top program in Canada in six of nine years. At the U Sports level, he has won back-to-back OUA titles and increased his win total every year he has led the Ryerson Rams. He’s also been instrumental in the rapid increase and inclusion of minority coaches at the collegiate level in Canada.

Internationally, Rana has long been involved in the Canadian national basketball program and has coached Team World at the Nike Hoop Summit. Rana’s even been a guest coach on the San Antonio Spurs staff during NBA Summer League.

But his greatest coaching achievement during his storied career is his latest, leading Canada to its first international gold medal by winning the FIBA U-19 World Championships. At the Nike Crown League on the campus of Ryerson, he and his team were honoured at halftime of a game. When the junior team was announced at the NBA- and NCAA-sanctioned summer pro-am, Rana and his players were overwhelmed with the reception from former national team players that play in the tournament and are still a part of the Canadian basketball community.

Even current Miami Heat big man Kelly Olynyk came by to pay homage to the team in person after doing so throughout the tournament online.

I caught up with Rana to find out what his historic win means for the upward trajectory of both his coaching career and the program as a whole.

SN – What was the expectation heading into the tournament?

RR – I think every team I’ve taken to a world championship, our goal is to get to the final eight. Once you’re in that bracket you’re really in that medal zone. Then you’ve got to win one game and you’re in the final four and have two shots at a medal. That’s always the way I’ve approached it. Last two times we finished fifth and lost that pivotal game. In 2010 in Hamburg we were able to win a bronze against Lithuania with Anthony Bennett, Kevin Pangos and Andrew Wiggins and all those guys. This year we were able to get over the hump against France and had a massive matchup against the U.S. and got through it and won a world championship.

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SN – What was the biggest difference between this team and the ones that couldn’t get over the hump before them?

RR – I think role acceptance is the one thing. We just fit together really nicely. We had a lot of guys who were willing to do whatever it took to win and three or four guys who could carry the team if they needed to. Everyone was ok with that and accepted it and embraced it. It wasn’t guys trying to compete against each other it was for each other. It was a beautiful thing because they knew in order to be successful we needed to maximize as a group and they really committed to do that.

SN – Did anything surprise you about the U.S.A. game?

RR – I expected a greater response. I expected the angry intensity that the U.S. can bring to you. It just never came and that was surprising to us.

SN – Post-game, U.S.A. and Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari said you out-coached him. What did that praise mean to you?

RR – Coach Cal and I have a pretty strong relationship and he’s always been pretty classy in wins and losses so I have tremendous respect for him. But I do think it says a lot about Canadian coaches and coaches who are here in U Sports, in our AAU programs, in our high school programs. We have really strong coaches. Hopefully this just adds more respect to what we have done globally. To hear that from him for me is special and I’ll embrace it until I lose the next game to him and am called a bum like we all are at some point in this business.

SN – What can winning the first gold in our history do for the national program?

RR – The conversation is often about Canadian hockey and basketball and I don’t think it’s a fair conversation. Most Canadians didn’t even know we were in Cairo. They had no idea this was happening. They got on to it late and realized something special in basketball at the youth level was happening. I compared it more to what happened in women’s soccer. They had that magical run, they won the world championship, the country just rallied behind them and it was the birth of a movement in a sense in terms of media coverage and all those things and I hope that’s what it is for us now.

I hope the next time a Canadian team goes to a qualifier or a world championship, whether that’s at the under-17 or under-19 level, that everybody will know this is happening, and people will know where to follow it and there will be media covering the roster being developed. Those are the types of things that happen in hockey. They don’t happen in basketball yet so we have a ways to go but hopefully this is a tipping point.

SN – When you defend this title in two years do you expect the MVP, R.J. Barrett, to be on the team?

RR – There are a lot of things that can happen in two years, especially when you’re trending in the direction that he is. He could very well be locked in and getting ready to be drafted, he could be on our senior team. It is too far away to predict. It would be special for him to be there no question but who knows what is going to happen in two years.

SN – Where does this victory rank on your list of personal basketball accomplishments?

RR – It’s got to be the greatest win that I’ve had in my life just because it is the world championship. I never dreamed in my life that I would (win it). My goal was to win a high school championship and OFSAA was the ultimate. It is certainly the biggest win I’ve had in my career just because of the magnitude of where it was and how it happened. To be able to say you’re a world champion is something special.

SN – What was it like for you when the rest of the basketball community here at Crown League gave your team a loud ovation?

RR – For me what is beautiful is when the players come over and you get to reconnect with them. Probably 80 per cent of the guys I’ve coached in some capacity. It’s like a big reunion. Our kids, they get it. They have an understanding of who came before them. It’s always special to be embraced by your own and it was beautiful thing to happen here at Crown League.