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Participation in student government elections at U of T among lowest in Canada

2019 UTSU elections saw 4.2 per cent voter turnout

Participation in student government elections at U of T among lowest in Canada

As the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Annual General Meeting has now lost quorum two years in a row, and its voter turnout in the last general election was 4.2 per cent, it seems the UTSU is experiencing a pattern of low democratic participation. The 2019 spring general election saw three executive positions and 18 director positions go unfilled, and the resulting by-election saw a voter turnout of 2.9 per cent. The UTSU is the highest student government body at U of T, with responsibilities such as advocacy and lobbying university administration and local government.

Although low participation in student government elections isn’t something that’s unique to U of T, there is a question as to whether U of T is an outlier.

The spring 2018 UTSU election saw the highest voter turnout of the past four years at 25.3 per cent, in part due to the U-Pass referendum. Although the majority of those present abstained from voting in all executive elections, the referendum had a 97.6 per cent participation rate.


However, low voter turnout in student government elections does not seem to be the norm in all Canadian universities.

In the general elections for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), voter turnout averaged 25.2 per cent for 2013–2019, nearly double the average of the UTSU’s general elections from 2016–2019, which was 12.8 per cent.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union, which has been tracking its voter turnout since 2006, has an overall average of 21.8 per cent, and an average of 25 per cent from 2016–2019. University of Alberta (U of A) also tracks voter turnout by program, something that neither U of T or any other university does. This data shows that the highest voter turnout comes from the Faculté Saint-Jean, the French-language faculty, as well as the science and pharmacy faculties. 

The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Alma Mater Society saw an average of 22.1 per cent voter turnout from 2013–2019, excluding the 2015 and 2016 separated referendum elections. In 2015 and 2016, the general elections were separated from the referenda, leading to a significant drop in election participation. The 2015 and 2016 general elections saw voter turnouts of 12.9 and 12.5 per cent respectively. In 2017, participation jumped back up to 20.7 per cent as the general elections were combined once more with referenda.

In 2019, of seven Canadian universities, voter turnout in the SSMU general election exceeded by four times more than in the UTSU election, and over five times more in the general elections for the student societies of UBC, U of A, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, and Western University.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman affirmed that voter turnout at U of T is a problem, and that the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) is looking for solutions. “In my opinion, it’s not enough to simply ramp up engagement around election time,” wrote Bowman to The Varsity. “We’ve been trying to reach out to students throughout our term… We want students to know that their concerns are our priority, and not just when we’re asking for their participation in our elections.”

“I want to incentivize students to vote, period.”

UTSU AGM 2019: Opt-out rates and finances, mental health, CFS

Union announces average fall semester opt-out rate of 23.6 per cent for non-essential UTSU fees

UTSU AGM 2019: Opt-out rates and finances, mental health, CFS

“As of right now, the [University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)] is performing stronger than ever,” said UTSU President Joshua Bowman at its 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30 at the Innis Town Hall. During his presidential address, Bowman listed out achievements, like the First Year Council and the union’s various lobbying efforts. 

However, the conversation at this year’s AGM centred on other matters: UTSU finances in the wake of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI); student mental health; and leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

UTSU finances, clubs, and the SCI

Under the SCI — the provincial mandate to Ontario universities and colleges to provide an opt-out option for certain incidental fees — a portion of the UTSU’s fees were deemed “non-essential,” while others remained mandatory for all members of the union.

In his presidential address, Bowman unveiled the fall semester opt-out rates for the non-essential UTSU fees:

The Advocacy, Training and Development fund, which has a fee of $0.19, saw an opt-out rate of 21.9 per cent.

Bikechain, a non-profit cycling organization with a $0.54 fee, saw an opt-out rate of 25.4 per cent.

The Blue Sky Solar Racing Car design team, which has a fee of $0.13, saw an opt-out rate of 27.1 per cent.

The CFS, which has a fee of $8.21, saw an opt-out rate of 26.6 per cent.

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 23.7 per cent.

The Centre for Women and Trans People, which has a fee of $1.50, saw an opt-out rate of 25 per cent.

The Cinema Studies Students’ Union, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 27.6 per cent, although it’s worth mentioning that the UTSU is not its only source of funding.

Dollars for Daycare, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 25.4 per cent.

Downtown Legal Services, which has a fee of $3.29, saw an opt-out rate of 19.4 per cent, though the UTSU is not its only source of income.

Food Security for Students, which has a fee of $0.15, saw an opt-out rate of 21.2 per cent.

Foster Parents Plan, which has a fee of $0.05, saw an opt-out rate of 24.4 per cent.

Health initiatives in Developing Countries, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 22.7 per cent.

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans people of the University of Toronto, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 25.8 per cent.

UTSU Orientation, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 22.7 per cent.

The scholarships and bursaries fee, which is $0.16, had an opt-out rate of 15.8 per cent.

The Sexual Education and Peer Counselling Centre, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 23.1 per cent.

The UTSU’s Clubs Funding and Resource Bank fund, which has a fee of $2.00, saw an opt-out rate of 20.9 per cent.

Students for Barrier-Free Access, which has a fee of $1.00, saw an opt-out rate of 23.7 per cent.

The University of Toronto Aerospace Team, which has a fee of $2.77, saw an opt-out rate of 27.1 per cent.

And finally, the University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network, which has an incidental fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 23.2 per cent.

The overall average opt-out rate was 23.6 per cent. Bowman told The Varsity that “any percentage of students opting out of our fees is… not great.”

During the executive Q&A session, Vice-President, Student Life Ameera Karim noted that two funding regimes had been added to the UTSU’s funding structure for campus organizations, including the abolition of automatic renewal of funding and a new semesterly funding application. Karim maintained that these changes were necessitated by the SCI.

Another point of contention arose around the UTSU’s guidelines for recognition and funding of clubs, with students questioning whether groups with ties to the Chinese government or anti-abortion student groups are eligible. While Karim’s answer indirectly referenced the fact that student groups that threaten student safety would not be recognized, Bowman — following a direct question from a student — clarified: “We will not recognize Students for Life.”

The UTSU’s operating budget

Former UTSU President Anne Boucher challenged the UTSU on its delay in posting an operating budget for the year. Bowman pointed to the SCI in response, emphasizing the lack of precedent and the resulting difficulties in financial planning. 

While a preliminary budget does exist, Bowman felt it wasn’t appropriate to post or approve a budget without knowing the UTSU’s opt-out rates. With the confirmation of the rates at the AGM, the budget will pass through the executive committee to be approved at the next UTSU Board of Directors meeting on November 17. 

Approximately 87 per cent of the UTSU’s budget was deemed essential under the provincial guidelines, with the remaining designated as non-essential. Bowman noted that the remaining non-essential budget is directed at “people-facing” initiatives, which indicates that those formulating the guidelines “don’t understand what campus life is all about.” 

Some substantial changes made in light of the SCI include cuts to club funding, student aid, and orientation. However, Bowman added that the UTSU would work to ensure that cuts to student aid would not impact those most reliant on the funds. 

Mental health concerns

In a discussion on the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, Bowman expressed his disappointment with the task force’s operations thus far. He further noted that its four student members have not been present at recent consultations with U of T community members.

Vice-President, Operations Arjun Kaul echoed this sentiment, commenting that “the mental health task force… has been extremely uncooperative” and has only reached out to the UTSU once. When questioned regarding whether the UTSU should develop a committee to hold the task force accountable to its mandate, Kaul asserted that the UTSU’s resources would be more effectively used toward new independent initiatives.

U of T Ombudsperson Dr. Ellen Hodnett’s comments at the October 24 Governing Council meeting — which defended the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP) and accused student activists of unfairly using campus deaths to criticize the policy — were raised repeatedly on the questioning floor. Campus groups, including the UTSU, have expressed outrage and called on Hodnett to issue a public apology. 

Kaul highlighted the lack of consultation involved in developing the UMLAP as well as the policy’s inappropriate nature: “I do believe that there are cases where it would be the student’s best interest to be removed from their studies, but it’s an inherently devoid-of-logic question to pair that with mental health.”

Questioning CFS membership

Vice-President, External Affairs Lucas Granger claimed that the UTSU executive team cannot initiate a referendum with union resources to leave the CFS, in response to a question from Ilya Bañares. Rather, that responsibility resides with student members. A petition to call on decertification must be signed by 15 per cent of the UTSU’s members in order for an exit referendum to occur.

Bowman told The Varsity that, speaking as an individual, if a member were to initiate such a referendum, he would be in support. 

With files from Hannah Carty and Andy Takagi

Disclosure: Ilya Bañares is The Varsity’s managing online editor and attended the AGM as a voting member.

Editor’s Note (November 12, 4:25 pm): This article has been updated to reflect that signatures from 15 per cent of the UTSU’s members, rather than 20 per cent, are needed for a referendum to leave the CFS to occur.

Student Commons to have soft launch in April 2020, projects UTSU

$24.5 million student centre set to open 13 years after project first approved

Student Commons to have soft launch in April 2020, projects UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Student Commons project — first proposed in the ’60s and approved by students in 2007 — has been fraught with delays and modifications to its original plan. Now, the UTSU projects an April 2020 soft launch, with the building being fully operational in September 2020. Funded by an $11.26 levy per student, the space aims to be the first student-run centre on the UTSG campus.

The history of the Student Commons

In 2007, students were promised a space that would include a 600-person auditorium, three restaurants, and office spaces for student groups. The project was originally supposed to be located where the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport now stands. Instead, it will now be at the old location of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at 230 College Street. The referendum to begin collecting a levy from students to fund the project passed later that year.

In 2015, the UTSU signed the Revised Student Commons Agreement, a binding document between the UTSU and the university. Former UTSU President Mathias Memmel, then Vice-President, Internal, criticized the UTSU executive that year for a lack of consideration when signing the document.

He said that the agreement “appears to have been negotiated and signed by the UTSU without due consideration of the real, long-term requirements for the building’s operations and the project’s financing as a whole.” Memmel also wrote that it favoured the university and was overall an “imbalanced deal.”

The Student Commons threatened to put the UTSU in financial jeopardy. In a 2017 op-ed in The Varsity, Memmel wrote, “Bankruptcy became a real possibility.”

That year, the project was revised so as to avoid a $500,000 deficit and the possibility of the building being seized by the university, which would occur if the project ran a deficit for two consecutive years after the first three years of operation. Current UTSU President Joshua Bowman said that the most recent deficit projection for the first year of operation is around $112,000, and that the project will reach a surplus after six years of operation, but clarified that the Student Commons’ operating costs would be covered by UTSU reserves.

Where the Student Commons is now

According to Bowman, the Student Commons costs $24.5 million to build, and will cost around $600,000 to operate. Students are paying $11.26 each semester of the 2019–2020 school year.

The UTSU has been collecting the capital levy from students since 2008. This levy pays for the renovation and building costs, as well as the licensing fee that is paid to the university every year. Costing $200,000 each year, the licensing fee will continue to be collected for 25 years after the building opens.

When the building is fully operational in September 2020, students will also be paying an operating levy. Sources of revenue for the project once it is operating include space rentals and program partnership grants.

UTSU executives from this year and last year expressed that the project’s delays were due to the difficulty of renovating an old building, as well as “a significant amount of asbestos” that had to be dealt with.

Speaking on the projected opening dates at the 2019 Annual General Meeting, Bowman noted, “[Bear] in mind that that is what our contractor has told us, and they have also been the same ones that have given us dates in the past.”

In an email to The Varsity, Bowman wrote, “Our timelines are set by the University Capital Planning Department and informed by the pace of construction. Additional delays could still happen… It is impossible to be certain given the continuously moving target set by our partners.”

Still in the midst of construction, Bowman wrote that “most large scale engineering within the building has been completed and the current work is being directed towards finishing the floors, walls, ceilings and lighting.”

The UTSU will move into the Student Commons when it opens, along with Student Life and the Innovation Hub. The Student Commons is also planned to have space for student groups, a student-run cafe, and an accessible kitchen.

Toronto City Council approves transit deal with province, against SCSU wishes

The expansion plan excludes Eglinton East LRT, which would stop at UTSC

Toronto City Council approves transit deal with province, against SCSU wishes

On October 29, Toronto City Council approved a transit deal with the Ontario government, whereby the province will cover the cost, planning, design, and construction of four new subway projects: the Ontario Line, the Yonge Street Subway Extension, the Line 2 East Extension, which will see three stops added to Line 2 deeper into Scarborough, and the Eglinton West light rail transit (LRT).

The deal has been met with student opposition, particularly at the UTSC campus. Not included in the provincial plan is the Eglinton East LRT which would extend the planned Eglinton West LRT eastward and include a stop at UTSC.

SCSU urges city to prioritize Scarborough transit users

At an executive meeting of City Council on October 23, Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) President Chemi Lhamo had asked city councillors to not “approve a plan that leaves the Eglinton East [LRT] out of the map. Unite with the students and transit users in Scarborough.”

Lhamo, as well as SCSU Vice-President, Campus Life, Sarah Mohamed, urged City Council to prioritize the needs of underserved Scarborough transit users, specifically those of UTSC students.

At the October 23 meeting, Lhamo and Mohamed proceeded to explain in greater detail some of the difficulties of using transit to commute to UTSC. Lhamo highlighted in particular her experience with delays of the 905 bus, which stops at UTSC. In addition, Lhamo pointed out that students who take the Durham bus from UTSC, which is not allowed to use TTC routes, are forced to wait on a lawn with no bus stop.

“It’s not safe, there’s no sidewalk,” explained Mohamed.

“We have been promised [the Eglinton East LRT] from year to year but have continuously been sidelined,” Lhamo wrote to The Varsity, adding that the line could cut down the commute of some students by more than 30 minutes.

The City of Toronto’s response

Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who represents ScarboroughRouge Park where UTSC is located, noted that Scarborough’s most recent rail-based transit update took place in 1985.

Mayor John Tory acknowledged that disagreement exists on the idea of the provincial government paying for additions to Toronto’s subway. However, Tory pointed out that this would free up funding for the city to implement proposals such as the Eglinton East LRT. “As much as you’re critical of some aspects of this deal, [this] would be a step forward to getting the Eglinton [East] LRT built,” said Tory.

Tory’s Executive Director of Communications, Don Peat, clarified in an email to The Varsity that this transit deal would free up $5 billion for the city to put toward keeping existing Toronto transit in good repair and investing in other transit expansion projects, including the Eglinton East LRT.

In the Spotlight: Judith Friedland

Occupational science, therapy professor emerita discusses student mental health, her research

In the Spotlight: Judith Friedland

“Do no harm” are the first words that come to Dr. Judith Friedland’s mind when asked about the role of universities in student mental health. Friedland, a professor emerita in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, has had a career at the university which spans decades. As a student, Friedland earned her occupational and physical therapy diploma in 1960, her BA in 1976, an MA in 1982, and a PhD in 1989. As a professor, she eventually became chair of her department from 1991–1999.

She sat down with The Varsity to talk about her research, her time at U of T, and how both relate to student mental health.

Researching students, universities, mental health

In 2014, Friedland co-wrote a study that looked into the connections between universities and students on mental wellness, and included a sampling of a small number of university students with self-identified mental health problems. “This study provides some evidence that listening to the student voice can help universities to lead the change; to take ownership and responsibility for the well-being of all of their students, including those with mental health problems,” concluded the authors.

During the next year, then-U of T Ombudsperson Joan Foley recommended to Governing Council that a new non-coercive mental health policy be implemented. This suggestion was the origin of the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), which, three years later, allows the university to unilaterally place students on mandated leave if they exhibit mental health problems that are deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. A little over a year after the policy’s passing, student mental health has come to the forefront of activism, with new student groups organizing protests against the UMLAP amidst four deaths on campus in the past two years.

Especially relevant now, Friedland’s research drew from her own experiences as a professor, personally working with students who went through challenges at home, felt outside pressure from their families, or felt other pressures from school or work. This led to a focus in her work to “corroborate some of those issues that [she] knew about from experience.”

Friedland talked about the importance of the relationship between professors and students: “I was very conversant [as a professor] with the fact of how many students had mental health issues as well as mental [illnesses].”

Students seeking help from professors in the form of extensions, or simply wishing to talk, need a connection with professors: “[if] there isn’t that kind of empathetic relationship, not necessarily emotional support, but just good old-fashioned empathy and understanding, then right away that student’s got a barrier toward getting help and is being stigmatized to some extent,” said Friedland.

“My guess is there’s still a number of people around teaching these days who don’t really believe totally in the stress that a lot of students are under.”

A culture supporting poor mental health

U of T’s stressful culture, coupled with increases in financial and housing insecurity, all play into why Friedland believes that mental health has been on the forefront of many students’ minds. However, she maintains that the literature is still unclear and undecided on concrete connections. “I would like to see more emphasis put on how the university can deal with some of that,” commented Friedland on the ways in which universities can support students.

On the UMLAP, Friedland admits to not being completely caught up on the discourse, but did comment on the perception that the policy is punitive through its wording.

“Just the word ‘mandated’ somehow sounded very punitive as opposed to helpful… In mental health and occupational therapy and psychiatric work, we talk about a therapeutic alliance,” Friedland said in explaining her hesitations about the policy. “Whoever is trying to help you, makes an alliance with you, and so you’re moving forward together… that terminology that it’s ‘mandated,’ it sounds like something so arbitrary.”

Moving away from “mental toughness”: VanVleet, Brittni Donaldson talk mental health at Goldring

Speakers discussed personal growth, difficulty with balancing mental health with sports

Moving away from “mental toughness”: VanVleet, Brittni Donaldson talk mental health at Goldring

The Varsity Blues Basketball Excellence program hosted a mental health panel at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on October 29 with Toronto Raptors guard Fredderick VanVleet along with Brittni Donaldson, and Jarred Dubois among others. The speakers discussed their relationship with mental health on a day-to-day basis, and how they have learned to interact with others while keeping mental health in mind.

VanVleet’s personal growth

VanVleet spoke about the challenges that he faced growing up and the evolution of his relationship with his own mental health. Growing up, VanVleet faced a lot of personal troubles, which he said he needed to block out due to the expectation of “mental toughness” in his basketball career. He said that mental health was not something that he felt he had to deal with, especially when his whole life was revolving around basketball.

“But it wasn’t until I had kids that I really started thinking about what that means for me as a person and what my parents passed down to me, what I’m able to pass down to them,” said VanVleet. “You just start thinking… ‘how do I better myself and better the people around me so that we’re not passing down destructive emotions, feelings, thought processes,’ whatever the case may be. So you took the flip from ‘okay, I have to be mentally tough’ when I’m playing a game, but also what does that mean for me as a man, as a father, as a son to pass that on to my kids so they have a clean slate.”

He said that he needed to revisit a lot of personal trauma that he hadn’t dealt with, and thought back on certain experiences that shaped him into the man he is today. VanVleet stressed the importance of having conversations about mental health, and passing on these conversations onto the younger generation.

The difficulty of discussing mental health in sports

Brittni Donaldson, Assistant Coach of the Toronto Raptors, who played four seasons for the University of Northern Iowa basketball program, discussed her personal difficulties in being asked to leave her emotions aside in athletic settings. “Mental toughness is a term that’s used almost daily in our environment and what it means in the environment of basketball and [other] sports is suppressing any sort of emotion or feeling,” Donaldson said. “Putting [them] on the back end in order to complete the task that’s in front of you.”

She said that this not only applies to her emotional state, but her physical pain as well. “You’re kind of conditioned as an athlete to just push through those types of things or just ignore them completely in order to complete the task at hand,” she continued. “For me personally that manifests itself in a physical form. I played collegiate basketball and every day [I] was preached to about mental toughness. If you weren’t mentally tough, you weren’t going to play.”

“I ended up pushing myself so far away from my inner dialogue and the things that were going on in my body and my mind that I was playing through injuries and not even realizing it. And it got to a point where I had to have reconstructive leg surgery and to be told I could never play again for me to realize [that] I’m that far away from my inner dialogue and what my body, my mind is telling me.”

Getting the discussion started early

Jarred Dubois, Assistant Coach for the Detroit Pistons and Founder of the non-profit organization, Everyone Has a Story, spoke about how he wanted to make sure young athletes at his kids camp were receiving proper help. “We started with bringing in mental wellness professionals to speak to the parents,” Dubois explained.

“We all know that a lot of parents — especially in youth sports — are very forceful in trying to get kids to perform at a high level. You’ve got to be the next Fred, you’ve got to be the next ‘this person’ or ‘that person.’ Every player can’t be the next NBA star. And the psychological breakdown of [that on] a child takes a toll.”

He went on to explain that many kids who go through traumatic experiences do not know how to process their emotions and are often given inadequate resources to deal with them. He wanted to have a way to listen to and connect with other people with similar experiences, which is why he started his non-profit, which hosts other similar panel discussions, and intends to “promote compassion for others one story at a time.”

“Understanding [that a lack of communication] was the case for me and my story and I wish that I had something like this where I could come and listen to people who I could connect with, people who do things that I’m engaged with from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of expertise,” DuBois continued. “And so I created this panel process.”

Varsity Blues hosts panel discussion with Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse

Nurse discusses championship run, managing players

Varsity Blues hosts panel discussion with Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse

On Monday, November 4, the Toronto Varsity Blues Basketball Excellence Program hosted a talk featuring the Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse which touched on topics including managing underdog teams and working under pressure. The talk was moderated by Sportsnet’s NHL reporter Elliotte Friedman. The event was held at the Toronto Region Board of Trade and touched on topics including winning the championship and staying calm in high pressure situations.

Nurse started the discussion by holding up his NBA championship ring, and later passing it around the room for everyone to hold. “Somebody asked me, ‘When do you wear it?’ I said ‘when I come to things like this.’ We just got them so I think I’m going to give it to people, share it with them. That was the… best experience for me about the whole title… sharing it with everybody from Toronto and Canada.”

Nurse spent his formative coaching years in the British Basketball League (BBL), with his first stop being the Birmingham Bullets. Before Nurse took over, the Bullets, much like the Raptors, had a rather underwhelming history.

He recalled one game where his player grabbed a rebound in a tie game at the end of the fourth quarter, forgot the score, and dribbled out to the half court line to let time expire — much like JR Smith’s infamous mistake in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA finals. “Two stats guys [were] sitting next to me that have been keeping stats for 20 years for the team. One of them looked at me and said ‘typical Birmingham Bullet basketball,’” Nurse recalled.

“This guy motivated me, that I needed to change everybody’s mindset in the whole organization. So I went back and I titled this little letter. I wrote at the top ‘expect to win.’” Nurse’s motivation seemed to work, as the Bullets would go on to win the BBL title in 1996.

Nurse went on to discuss his experience coaching in the NBA Development League, now known as the NBA G League. He said that in his countryside house, just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, he had several large whiteboards where he would draw up plays for late-game situations. “I mean just literally hundreds of scenarios end-of-game. But we sat there and thought of everyone we could think of.”

Friedman asked Nurse if coaching in high-pressure situations like NBA Finals brought him back to his basement just outside of Des Moines. Nurse said, “I don’t know about that, but what I do believe is this: you’re totally there. That’s the one thing you don’t even notice: the 20,000 [fans]… the 800 media, you don’t notice the pressure of the situation. You’re not really thinking about ‘oh my God, this is the NBA Finals.’”

Nurse continued by saying that he wanted his players to mirror his calm. “I wanted to be confident so our guys would be confident… I don’t always pick the best play, I don’t always pick the guy to shoot it, but when we do leave that huddle, we’re going to walk out there together, knowing what we’ll do.”

The summer after the NBA Finals, Nurse met with Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA Championships as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. When coaching in England, Nurse would watch tapes of Jackson’s Bulls, keeping an eye out for his famous ‘triangle offense.’ He finally got to meet Jackson this August in Montana and recounted a story of driving in Phil Jackson’s truck. “We drive around for like three hours eating cherries and spitting the seeds out the window. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’m sitting here eating cherries with 11 time NBA Champion, Phil Jackson.’”

Nurse recalled the two best pieces of advice he got from the coaching legend on their last day together. “He said, ‘number one, don’t underestimate the power of the basketball gods… you’ve been hired by your owners to make, at all times, the best decision for the team. And you have to keep that in mind. That’s not going to be easy.’”

The next piece of advice was the most memorable, and one that Friedman included in his weekly 31 Thoughts column. “I want you to imagine you got this sword. He said that one end, the sharp end, you’re going to have to push those guys. You [have] got to prod them. You have to get on their asses. But every now and then I want you to turn around and look at the handle. And I want you to have that symbolize compassion because you have to understand where they come from and what they’re going through,” Nurse recalled.

“And then poof — he disappeared,” Nurse joked.

Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

Men win home opener while women yet to win in OUA play

Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

The Toronto Varsity Blues basketball teams went 1–1 against the Brock Badgers in their double-header home opener on Saturday, November 2. The women’s team lost in the first game, and the men’s claimed victory in the second.

Women’s team 

The women’s side took the court first, seeking their first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) victory of the season, following a tough loss on the road the previous night to the York Lions.

Brock drew first blood in the opening quarter after a fast break layup by the Badgers’ Meagan Charbonneau in the second minute. The Blues responded, however, as Nada Radonjić connected from distance on back-to-back possessions. The Blues led by as many as five points in the quarter and held an 18–16 lead after 10 minutes of play.

Toronto continued to dictate the pace into the second quarter, throwing out an ever-changing concoction of aggressive zone, press, and defenses to frustrate Brock’s shooters. The Blues limited the Badgers to just one field goal over the first five minutes of the quarter, and turned defense into offense, where they got great looks off of penetration.

Christine Jurcau, tasked with the unenviable assignment of guarding OUA All-Star selection Melissa Tatti, held the star Badgers guard to just four points on three field goal attempts in the first half — far from Tatti’s typical average of 16.6 points per game. The halftime score was 34–30 in favour of Toronto.

Toronto forward Sarah Bennett — averaging a near double-double of 9.3 points and 8.5 boards per contest thus far in her comeback season from injury — was benched with her third foul just 10 seconds into the third quarter. The two teams traded buckets briefly before Radonjić pushed the Blues’ lead back to six with 7:10 minutes remaining on the clock by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.

However, the injury-plagued Blues, who have seen up to seven of their 16-woman roster sidelined at some point this season, showed signs of fatigue and inexperience later in the game, while Brock’s shooters were hitting shot after shot. The Badgers went four-for-four from a distance in the quarter, and went on an 11–0 run before Jurcau stopped the bleeding with only 4:59 minutes left in the quarter, sinking a pair of free throws. Unfortunately, that was the last of the Blues’ scoring for the period, and the Badgers pieced together a 12–0 run to make it 58–43 for the visiting Badgers after three quarters.

The Blues continued to fight into the final quarter but ultimately could not recover from the deficit. They cut the lead to as little as 11 points, with 7:26 minutes to play on a three-point basket by Jurcau. Unfortunately, Brock’s shooters could not be denied, hitting a blistering 64 per cent of their three-point attempts in the second half and 50 per cent of their field goals overall. The final score was 78–59 in favour of the visiting Badgers.

Radonjić posted a double-double with a team high of 20 points and a game high of 11 boards, while fellow veteran Bennett wound up with 14 points and seven boards. Fiorella Granda led the team in assists with four, and first-year forward Nakeisha Ekwandja was solid with six points and six boards in only 29 minutes of action. Jurcau was a workhorse for the Blues, logging a career-high 40 minutes on the night and contributing 10 points to the scoring spread.

“I thought we opened up the game with a lot more energy. We played pretty well; we shared the ball well,” noted Coach Michèle Bélanger after the game. “Defensively, we were really alert, we rebounded the ball well. We boxed out. So those were all really great positives.”

Jurcau said that she was “extremely proud” of her team’s efforts, commending the work of rookies Ekwandja and Sarah Cumby in particular. Jurcau sees room for improvement but has faith in the team’s promise.

“I think people are starting to step up more… We have moments and spurts where we show [promise]… we’re just not at that consistent spot yet… We’re still a fairly new team and [have] a lot of stuff to deal with already, like injuries, but I definitely think… slowly but surely, we’ll be working together very well,” explained Jurcau.


Men’s team

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss the night before to take down the Brock Badgers in a stunning comeback fashion.

Daniel Johansson opened up the scoring for the home side 1:43 minutes into the first quarter with a three-point bucket, and the teams traded baskets for much of the quarter. The Badgers took a one-point lead heading into the second with the score at 14–13.

In the second quarter, the Badgers continued to gain easy buckets in the paint off of some clean back cuts and crisp ball movement, quietly increasing their lead to as much as nine points with only 5:22 minutes remaining on the clock before the home side caught fire. The Blues swung the momentum on the backs of a 9–0 run over the span of just 70 seconds into the quarter, as Elie Mouyal breathed life into teammates and fans alike with back-to-back three-pointers and rookie Alec McGregor added another three-ball on the next Blues possession. The Blues and Badgers once again kept the contest neck-and-neck, and the Badgers maintained a 36–35 lead at halftime.

Just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Toronto’s Eric Rwahaire accomplished a rare four-point play as he caught a cross-court pass from Evan Shadkami and connected from beyond the arc on the right wing, while being bumped and sent to the ground by his defender.

After Rwawhire hit the ensuing free-throw to put the Blues ahead with a score of 39–38, the Badgers went on a mini 6–0 run. Shadkami responded, hitting a triple with 7:17 minutes left in the period. However, the Blues’ shooting suddenly went cold, and Shadkami’s three pointer would be Toronto’s last field goal of the quarter. The Badgers held their largest lead of the game, 53–42, after three quarters of action.

The Blues found a second gear in the fourth, a testament to their veteran experience and leadership. Iñaki Alvarez and Shadkami respectively sunk a layup and a three-point shot on the Blues’ first two possessions to open the frame, and then Johansson made good on a crafty Eurostep through two Brock players in the low block to cut the lead to 53–49 with 8:29 minutes left to play.

The Blues threw out a stifling 1-2-2 match-up zone that proved to be highly effective, forcing the Badgers to turn the ball over and take contested, low-percentage outside shots. Some timely scoring from Anthony Daudu, Shadkami, and Johansson tied the game at 63 apiece, with only two minutes left in the game.

The Badgers clung to their 66–65 lead with under a minute left. Though, when they failed to convert, the Blues regained possession with 24 seconds left on the clock. The home squad would end up getting statistical contributions from every player that saw floor time, but in the end it was the Blues’ dynamic fifth-year duo that secured the victory for their team.

Johansson would sink the go-ahead basket with about 12 seconds remaining, a clutch face-up long range jumper near the top of the arc that sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Blues a 68–66 lead.

After Godsman Kwakwah threw up a prayer on the ensuing Badgers possession, it was none other than fellow fifth-year, floor general Chris Barrett — the smallest player on the court in stature, but clearly not in heart — secured the crucial rebound on the miss. Barrett was sent to the line to stop the clock and calmly drained both foul shots, icing the game and capping off 28 points for Toronto in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the final score was 70–66 for the Blues.

The win marked Toronto’s first OUA victory, moving them to 1-2, and was also their first win of the year over a nationally ranked team. Shadkami had a team-high 19 points, including five three-pointers, on 7–13 shooting from the field, and added five assists. Daniel Johansson added 18 points and eight boards, and the Blues got 18 of their 70 points from the bench.

Assistant Coach Mike De Giorgio was pleased with the team’s perseverance, noting that “last year, we kinda quit when we got down. And this year, when we [get] down, we [fight] back.” He noted, however, that the team will continue to work on being “more consistent with our effort… at the ‘smart things,’” including “trying to follow the game plan, trying hard to take the right shot, [and] not just the easy shot… really working hard at boxing out and going to get the ball.”

In addition to fifth-years Johansson and Barrett, the Blues are also enjoying the services of Division 1 transfer Eric Rwahwire, who De Giorgio has credited for vocal leadership on the court.