For Carleton success is all in the details

The Carleton Ravens won their 10th CIS national championship in the last 12 years on Sunday and the secret to their success has always been the team's fanatical attention to detail (Justin Tang/CP)

The man videotapes scrimmages. In summer. And if Carleton Ravens players want to sit down the morning after and have head coach Dave Smart or another member of the Ravens staff go over details of their pick-up game the night before, they will.

“From April to September we work with our individuals every day,” Smart was saying earlier this week, before he piloted the Ravens to their 10th CIS title at the Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday. “Every day we work with kids who want to be great. We video the workouts, we film scrimmage, and the next day we sit and go through their individual games … are they jumping to the ball? Are they in a stance? Are they reading that screen correctly?”

The answer, more often than not, come March at the CIS Final 8 tournament, is yes. Absolutely yes.

Their alley-fight of a 79-67 win over cross-canal rival Ottawa Gee-Gees Sunday was their 10th national championship in the past 12 years.

There are all kind of ways to express the how and whys behind the unprecedented reign of excellence that will forever be synonymous with Carleton’s basketball program and their detail-obsessed head coach, but what they do out of season is as good a place to start as any.

This is a program that has lost 14 league games – total – in the past 14 seasons. At the CIS championships, against the best of the best in the country, they’ve gone 32-2.

They’ve won in blowouts and they’ve won their share of close games too. And they’ve transitioned from a program built on Smart coaching his nephews – Mike and Rob Smart as well as Aaron Doornekamp were the foundations pieces – to attracting talent from across the country drawn to the impossible challenge of playing perfect basketball for a coach who typically finds their best efforts lacking.

“It's been a long year,” Smart said, hardly sounding like a coach who lost just once to a Canadian opponent this season, a buzzer beater to the Gee-Gees in the OUA Finals. “You guys see wins and losses, but there's been a lot of ups and downs.”

The environment seems to inspire excellence in all things. Thomas Scrubb is studying neuroscience; his brother commerce. There are philosophy majors and aspiring accountants. Being good at the task of being great at basketball doesn’t come at the expense of academics.

None of this is new, but on Sunday in an NHL rink packed convincingly with Canadian university basketball fans, the Ravens managed one of those round-numbered feats that will undoubtedly be a reference point of excellence for generations to come.

Ten is a stunning number. The only comparable feat of dominance was the seven straight CIS titles that the Victoria Vikings won from 1980-86.

And if Sunday was the reward – being mobbed on the floor, taking turns raising the W.P. McGee trophy like it was the Stanley Cup – it was earned in a crucible of determined effort that has become synonymous with Smart and his program.

The Ravens have never been short of talent – seven times during their reign they’ve had the country’s top player in their lineup and this year’s edition had two former Mike Moser Award winners in Philip Scrubb and Tyson Hinz. Scrubb made history as the first three-time player of-the-year award winner earlier this week, but it was Hinz who won Final 8 Most Valuable Player honours after putting up 30 points against the Gee-Gees. Last year’s tournament MVP was Thomas Scrubb, who was the defensive player of the year in country this season. The lineup is loaded.

But if anything the Ravens talent gets underrated because they win at basketball due primarily to execution rather than overwhelming athleticism.

Trip after trip in the decisive fourth quarter the Gee-Gees came up empty when they were in desperate need of scores, while the likes of Hinz, Thomas Scrubb – Phil’s brother – or transfer Victor Raso would find a way to knock down a crucial basket.

That goes back to Smart’s near fanatical focus on detail and skill development. His pitch to athletes who might be considering the opportunity to play NCAA basketball is simple: You will improve more if you play for me.

“I don’t know what it’s like down there, but here at Carleton it’s been amazing, there’s no restrictions on it on how much you can train,” says Philip Scrubb, who will be gunning for his fifth straight national title next season. “That’s one of the main things that has made me better. There are [Canadian] guys playing amazing down there, but at Carleton you become the best player you can possibly be.

“It’s pretty serious,” says Scrubb. “But if you really like basketball it’s the perfect place.”

The result is a record that may never be matched in Canadian university sport, but Carleton being Carleton, they’ll enjoy it for all of a few weeks.

The off-season awaits.