The sweeper diaries

A Varsity Blues event staff member details his experiences cleaning the Goldring court

The sweeper diaries

This year, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Varsity Blues event staff for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Every time I received the staffing schedule before the first basketball double header at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, I remember feeling slightly disappointed that I was always assigned to be a sweeper. Back then, I couldn’t wait to eventually graduate to the scoring table, but, fortunately for me, that time never came. I quickly realized that sweeping the sweat off the court was the best possible gig I could ask for.

When I was growing up, I would watch those few young volunteers at NBA games pass the balls to players at shootaround, give them water on the bench, or sweep the floor during the game. I would always wonder how in the world those kids got so lucky — I was so envious that they got to be so close to the action every single night. Somehow, I stumbled upon the same position.

Although Blues basketball is not quite the NBA, each game is extremely well programmed, and everyone playing, working, or in attendance is fully invested in the game. This environment made the sweeper job truly fun.

Watching the game from under the hoop is probably the best view in the gym. I felt much more secure in my chair with my mop than I would have felt sitting at the scoring table, which seemed intimidating.

From under the hoop I could get a close look at the coaches, bench, players, and referees. Whenever there was a rough play under the hoop, I could see it first hand. I could judge whether I thought there was a foul and anticipate an argument between player and referee. I could catch every missed box out or defensive rotation, guess whether a player would be subbed out, and look to see the coach’s reaction.

Since basketball players are among the most visually exposed athletes with their light outfits and lack of headgear, I could read each player’s mood and engagement throughout each contest. The unique insight my position gave me allowed me to predict which direction a game would go. Confident stature, smiles, and a loud cheering bench showed me that they weren’t going to lose the lead, while blank faces and arguing with referees was a sign they might be vulnerable.

Each time a player fell down, I would jump out of my seat, weasel my way between players, and wipe up the wet spot left by the player. Sometimes, the referee would even look directly at me and point to the wet spot.

One night, after sweeping up a really big wet spot, the referee looked at me and asked, “Hey, do you do houses or apartments?” I responded, “Of course. Cash only though!”

Another night, the ball was wedged between the backboard and the rim, causing an awkward pause in the game. I assumed the referee or one of the girls would jump up and poke it out of the rim, but about 30 seconds had passed and no one had done anything. Fifth-year guard Rahshida Atkinson then yelled, “Isaac! Get the ball!” So I jumped up and released the ball from the rim with my hand and received a round of applause.

I quickly sat back down, feeling like I was overstepping my job description.

I had plenty of flattering interactions throughout the season. One referee told me that I was the best sweeper in Ontario University Athletics, and I even had the pleasure of goofing around with the mascot when they would come, grab my mop, and help clean up the court.

These were just some small anecdotes of my vital, yet often unnoticed, position with the Blues events staff — a true honour.

Keyira Parkes: more than just an athlete

The Blues star talks academics, life, and hoop dreams

Keyira Parkes: more than just an athlete

Being a university student isn’t easy. Students have to grind it out during the year for assignments, quizzes, midterms and the most dreadful of them all: final exams. The workload is already hectic enough for students, but imagine trying to add sports to the stack, another massive time commitment. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to handle the busy schedules of varsity athletes. University of Toronto Varsity Blues basketball guard Keyira Parkes is one of those brave few willing to sacrifice precious time to play a sport they love.

Growing up, Parkes was avidly involved with sports. She started playing sports when she was just seven years old. Her first love was, surprisingly, soccer, not basketball. “[I played] soccer, but not for a rep team or anything,” says Parkes. “[I played] mostly in school. I actually wanted to play soccer before basketball. It was my favourite sport.”

Parkes already found success on and off the court before joining the Blues program. Graduating with honours from the International Baccalaureate program at St. John Paul II CSS, she was also MVP of her basketball team. She won another MVP award in a basketball tournament outside of high school. Parkes is currently pursuing a double major in Criminology and English.

Now a prolific scorer on the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team, it’s no surprise the player from whom she takes inspiration. “Growing up, the most influential basketball player to me would have to be Allen Iverson. He was one of my idols growing up,” says Parkes. Like Iverson, Parkes is quick and can slash her way to the rim. She is a very impressive scorer despite her relatively small stature. Iverson is listed at just six feet, while Parkes is 5’1″ tall.

“I’d have to say my strengths as a player is my shooting ability,” notes Parkes. This season, Parkes is leading the team in points with 16.8 points per game on an efficient 46.6 field-goal percentage. She also leads the team in three-point percentage, with a staggering 45.8 mark. “I really take pride in being a great shooter,” she adds, while also emphasizing the importance she places on creating opportunities for her teammates.

Most athletes generally have some sort of weakness. LeBron James, for example, has been a below average free-throw shooter for his entire career. Parkes, however, claims that there is no true physical weakness to a player. In her mind, mental weakness is what separates good players from great players. “I think that when you doubt yourself, that’s the only weakness you can possess. I truly believe that when you believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself, you can do anything.”

Parkes notes that her only ‘weakness’ would be when she doubts herself. “I don’t doubt myself often though,” she adds.

Despite being a talented basketball player, Parkes doesn’t come from a family with a history of sports. “I’d love to lie and tell you that they do, but they don’t. They never really pursued sports, at least not in a serious way.”

When it comes to balancing school and sports, it can get confusing and challenging. A typical week could begin with a women’s basketball team practice at 6:30 am on Monday morning. These practices often last until 9:00 am. Then, players proceed to the weight room, where they lift for another hour.

Her own personal schedule begins with going back to the gym to practice shooting and ball-handling, since she doesn’t have class until the afternoon. After she’s finished with extra reps, she heads to physiotherapy to focus on physical health and rehabilitation. Her final step of the day is academics, going to classes until roughly 7:00 pm. “Then the next day is just wash, rinse and repeat,” she laughs.

Being a varsity athlete can be difficult, as time management is one of the biggest aspects of maintaining a healthy workload. “It’s pretty tough, especially coming into university as a first-year student,” says Parkes. Having to represent your school as an athlete is similar to a full-time job. The demand of constant workouts, practices, meetings, and weekly games can take a toll on body and mind.

“We tend not to have a social life because it’s just basketball and school back and forth,” she adds. “But it’s a comfortable rhythm, and I think I adjusted to it pretty well.”

Before upcoming games, players participate in shootarounds, drills, and practices in preparation for their next opponent. Players and coaches go through the other team’s offense and focus everyone on their defense.

“For me personally, I usually like to get up shots during the week,” says Parkes. “The day of the game I sleep a lot, just to get my mind and everything calm, because I don’t like being tired before the game.”

At the end of the day, it’s all worth it to Parkes. The opportunity of being a varsity athlete at one of Canada’s most prestigious schools is rewarding for her. “The feeling that I get when [I play basketball] is feeling free, and there’s just not a care in the world.”

After graduation, Parkes plans on going to law school. She prefers Harvard University, or any of the top schools in the US. She also wouldn’t mind staying at U of T to become a lawyer. When it comes to her future in professional basketball, Parkes says that “if it comes, it comes. I would love to play pro if the opportunity came about.”

Reilly Reid explains his basketball philosophy

The Blues guard leads the team in points and rebounds

Reilly Reid explains his basketball philosophy

Reilly Reid has played sports his entire life. Starting with his dad being drafted into the NHL by the St. Louis Blues to watching the Toronto Maple Leafs growing up to being named the most valuable player on his high school basketball team, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues shooting guard has been immersed in sport for as long as he can remember.

“I was definitely around the sports culture a lot from an early age,” wrote Reid to The Varsity. “Whether it was watching sports or playing sports, my dad was always introducing me to new skills and habits. He has the best sports mind I’ve ever met and he’s taught me so much more than just the basics.”

This season, Reid is averaging 13.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, and he is on 40/33/77 shooting splits. He’s first on the team in points and rebounds, and he still maintains an efficient field goal percentage. He takes inspiration from the play style of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade.

“We both prefer attacking the rim and using our body over shooting outside jumpers, but will still shoot the open ones.” He is also the team’s most relied-upon player when it comes to playing time, logging in 31.4 minutes per game. Reid said he doesn’t let himself get affected by the pressure.

“I don’t necessarily feel pressured to put up points because we have a lot of guys who can score the ball in a variety of ways,” he said. “So if I’m struggling during a game, we have a lot of guys that can pick me up, which is great. However, sometimes when the offense is struggling I think it is part of my role to be aggressive whether it is scoring myself, or finding others for open looks. I think when I am aggressive it opens up other people and allows us to be in a nice rhythm offensively.”

Reid, a St. Michael’s College student, is currently enrolled in Urban Studies and Human Geography. When it comes to balancing school with basketball, Reid said that the biggest challenge “is not being able to seek out extra help as much as a regular student might be able to.” He sees visiting professors at office hours as a challenge, due to most of them being at the same time as the team’s practices. He stresses that time management is one of the most important skills involved in being a student athlete.

Nonetheless, Reid values this time with the team and the camaraderie that accompanies his involvement.

“Everyone is around each other for the whole time we’re away, it makes for a lot of good stories and laughs… You get to learn a lot about the personal side of teammates you might not have known before and it brings everybody closer together.”

Blues defeat rival York Lions 73–56

University of Toronto men’s basketball improve record to 8-7

Blues defeat rival York Lions 73–56

The University of Toronto men’s basketball team were in action against rival York Lions on Friday night. Defense dominated the game early, as Lions forward Nana Adu-Poku was the first to put points on the board 1:40 minutes into the first quarter. The Blues managed to tie the game at 2–2 with 6:15 remaining. Toronto’s lockdown defense earned a whopping seven steals, while their offense allowed one turnover compared to the Lions’ seven in the first quarter.

Toronto’s offence picked it up in the second quarter, outscoring their opponent 21–18. Guards Reilly Reid and Sage Usher led the way with eight and seven points respectively.

Toronto’s defence were unable to contain York Lions guard Chevon Brown, who dominated the first half with 13 points. The Blues took advantage of turnovers by scoring 11 points on York’s 10 turnovers. The Lions did dominate the glass with 26 total rebounds with guard and forward Gianmarco Luciani leading the way with six rebounds. The Blues also shot 87.5 per cent from the free throw line and entered the second half with a close 33–29 lead.

Blues defense remained consistent in the third quarter, allowing only 10 points. The Blues maintained a 49–39 lead with guard Nikola Paradina finishing an exceptional quarter with 10 points and four rebounds. The Blues defense also managed to slow down Chevon Brown and keep him at two points. Toronto won the game with a final score of 73–56.

Paradina finished the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and one assist. Usher also played a good, consistent game, with 12 points, and he came just one assist shy of a double-double. Brown had 23 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. He also was perfect from the free throw line going 8-8.

The Blues came into Friday’s game sixth in the Eastern Division standings with a 7-7 record. York’s defeat leaves them in last place in the Eastern Division.

Women’s basketball come up short to Queen’s

Blues lose third game in a row

Women’s basketball come up short to Queen’s

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team have now lost three games in a row following their 74–66 loss to the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday night.

The Gaels’ offense jumped out to a 19–9 lead at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Toronto gained momentum and managed to outscore Queen’s 25–24, slowly cutting the deficit to a 43–34 lead at halftime.

The Blues improved in the second half, outscoring the Gaels 32–31. Unfortunately the first quarter deficit proved to be costly, as Toronto could not catch up to the Gaels despite outscoring them 57–55 after the first quarter.

“Offensively we really picked it up in the second half with sharing the ball. We got a lot of good looks, but the problem I think with that is it happens too late in the game,” said Blues guard Keyira Parkes. “Defensively we have to be in transition and just really bear down and focus from the jump. We can’t let them get a run on us.”

Parkes led the Blues with 19 points on an efficient 8-14 shooting, along with five rebounds and two assists. The next highest Blues scorer was Diedre Edwards with 12 points.

Gael Marianne Alarie ended the night with a game high of 20 points scored, leading the way for Queen’s. Her eight points in the first quarter helped the Gaels jump to the commanding lead that would later be too much for the Blues to come back from. Sophie de Goede contributed with 15 points off the bench, including nine free throws.

The Blues are now 5-11 on the season, while the Gaels improve to an impressive 13-3 record.

When asked about the next game, Parkes said, “We have to come in the game focused… [and] executing game plans, because that’s been a challenge for us. We tend to forget in the first two minutes of the game what the game plan is and what we’re supposed to be doing.”

“We can’t lose any more games. We really have to play together and find that defensive [relentlessness],” she continued.

U of T’s next game is against the undefeated Carleton Ravens at Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on Friday, January 26.

Blues men’s basketball prevail 86–74 over Laurier

Game of guards sees Toronto overcome Golden Hawks

Blues men’s basketball prevail 86–74 over Laurier

Following a tight defeat for the women’s team, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team took to the court on Friday evening aiming to fell the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and claim their fourth win of the season.

As the opening festivities wrapped up and the cheerleaders vacated the playing space, Toronto geared up for battle against a purple and gold-clad Laurier team that had lost a tight 77–76 decision to the Queen’s Gaels the week before.

The Blues ended the first quarter with a resounding 27–14 score. Guard trio Jawara Pedican, Reilly Reid, and Nikola Paradina dominated proceedings, claiming seven, nine, and five points respectively. Each would also claim a three, as would fellow guards Christopher Barrett and Chase Ruttenberg. During the quarter, the Blues earned a 17-point uncontested run and outclassed the Golden Hawks.

The tides slowly turned in the second quarter, and despite the Blues being ahead by 10 points at around the halfway mark, Laurier went on to earn their own 14-point uncontested run.

Second-year Laurier guard Tevaun Kokko posted impressive stats in the quarter with 14 points. Toronto succumbed to a 29–15 quarter, which meant Laurier entered the second half with a slim 43–42 lead.

The third quarter began slowly as both teams returned to the court, before Reid and Paradina combined to propel the Blues into a dominating lead. A lethargic Laurier had no response to the rampant duo, who claimed 21 points and eight rebounds in the quarter between them.

As the quarter progressed, Toronto found rhythm, moving the ball around more deftly as Laurier were plagued with sloppy defending and poor forward movement. The Blues posted a 50 per cent shooting record from the field while restricting Laurier to just 30 per cent.

Pulling a 70–56 lead into the fourth quarter, the Blues were content with seeing out the victory. Both teams had similar control of the ball and, for the first time in the game, neither went on strong runs. Reid’s influence never waned however, as the Blues stayed true to their course and restricted Laurier to an 18–16 final quarter.

Reid led the Blues with a career-high 24 points, adding seven rebounds, with Paradina trailing closely behind with his own career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds. Laurier’s Kokko led the night with 25 points but was likely disappointed that his team were overmatched by Toronto’s physical play on the night.

The victory pushed the Blues to a 4-3 regular season record, occupying sixth place in the OUA eastern conference standings.

Can the Raptors reach the NBA Finals?

Toronto lost key players Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll in the offseason

Can the Raptors reach the NBA Finals?

It’s that time of year again: the NBA season is about to begin. Last season, the Toronto Raptors finished 51–31, which was good enough to lock up their second straight 50-win season and third place status in the Eastern Conference. Their impressive regular season success, however, didn’t translate in the playoffs in the way fans were hoping for.

After a tough six-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors advanced to play a familiar foe in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many were hoping for a competitive rematch, LeBron and company had different ideas: they swept them in four games.

After a long offseason, the Raptors were able to re-sign core team members Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell in hopes of climbing the Eastern Conference ladder.

Despite many players returning to the franchise in 2017, one familiar face won’t be back. The Raptors traded DeMarre Carroll and two 2018 draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets for Justin Hamilton.

After the trade was completed, Carroll told Postmedia, “I feel like a lot of guys didn’t trust each other, and a lot of guys, they didn’t feel like other guys could produce.” Raptors team President Masai Ujiri dismissed the comments and said that he takes them “with a grain of salt.” While many fans were also quick to dismiss Carroll’s comments, the numbers never lie — if we look at Toronto’s on-court stats, his statement seems to hold true.

The Raptors ranked dead last in assist percentage per game last season and were ranked second in isolation basketball. It’s easy to come to the incorrect conclusion that, since the Raptors won 51 games last year, their system works. You might be able to get away with playing isolation basketball during the regular season, but against tougher teams night in and night out during the playoffs, you need to be able to rely on other players.

The numbers show this to be true: the Raptors’ offensive rating ranked sixth in the regular season, while in the playoffs it was ranked third worst. Essentially, the Raptors were too predictable in the playoffs, which was almost their downfall against the Bucks, who ranked first in defense ratings in the playoffs, and it was certainly their downfall against the Cavaliers. Ujiri did try to address the team’s offensive woes by acquiring sharpshooter CJ Miles and drafting OG Anunoby. These additions add versatility to the wings and three-point shooting that is vital to making a deep run in the playoffs.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Eastern Conference has become less competitive over the past decade, though with all the moves made this summer, you could argue that the notion is a thing of the past. The blockbuster trade of the summer happened between the top two teams in the east last year, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The trade centred around star guards Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. It’s too early to tell who won this trade, but we know that it gives Boston the star power they were looking for and Cleveland the depth they were lacking. For the Raptors, this means that their strongest competitors last year arguably got even better.

While many teams have decided to wait out the Golden State Warriors era in basketball, there are still some teams in the west that are competing and changing up their rosters in the hopes of taking down this dynasty.

Oklahoma City Thunder made the biggest splash this offseason by adding all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony; the Houston Rockets added Chris Paul to pair with James Harden; the Minnesota Timberwolves added Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler to their young core; and the San Antonio Spurs added Rudy Gay to add depth to their roster.

For the Raptors, the road to the finals is a long one. But the key to their success this year is moving the ball a lot more on offense. With a full training camp and preseason to get familiar with one another, it’s important that trust is built between players.

Blues take Centre Court during NBA All-Star festivities

All-star exhibition was held in Toronto for the first time last weekend

Blues take Centre Court during NBA All-Star festivities

The Varsity Blues (5-12) men’s basketball team fell to the Ryerson Rams (15-2), 79-94 during the NBA Centre Court festivities for the 2016 NBA All-Star game.

The game celebrated the opening of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto. The All-Star exhibition is an annual weekend of basketball festivities held by the NBA, which includes skills competitions, most notably a slam-dunk competiton, and a final match up between the best players in the eastern and western conferences. 

This year, host city Toronto ensured fans of all ages could enjoy various basketball drills and activities at the NBA Centre Court event, which were facilitated by All-Star staff, former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo and current San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Blues represented U of T in a showcase of Ontario varsity basketball talent throughout the weekend. The men’s team took on Ontario University Athletics (OUA) leaders and cross-town rivals Ryerson Rams. The day prior, the Queen’s Gaels defeated the Windsor Lancers in the women’s All-Star showcase.

More than just an opportunity to give varsity athletes a taste of the pros, the event displayed the strong passion for basketball many Torontonians harbour in a hockey-dominated nation. It comes at a time when the Toronto Raptors are second in the Eastern Conference standings and the Leafs sit at the bottom of the NHL.   

During the matchup between the Blues and Rams, U of T kept it close in the first half before the Rams went on a scoring run in the third quarter. Using their size and firm defense to gain momentum, the Rams built a significant lead over the Blues.

Despite early fouls by the Blues’ Sage Usher and strong Rams defense on lead scorer Devin Johnson, U of T was able to keep the game at 24-27 at the end the first quarter. 

The Blues enjoyed an offensive surge from forwards Miroslav Jaksic and Manny Sahota off the bench. In the second quarter, the Rams’ tight defense continued, and the Blues switched to a more traditional line-up with the 6’10” Jaksic matching up with the Rams’ 6’9” centre Kadeem Green.

Despite a slow start, Devin Johnson led the Blues with 10 points to keep the score at 37-40.

With the game tied at 42 at the 2:12 mark, Rams forward Adam Voll recorded a huge block on the Blues’ Devin Williams, leading to a retaliation foul and two made free throws. The Rams used the late surge to maintain their lead at 44-47 heading into the second half.

In the third quarter, Sage Usher was once again benched early on after recording his third foul.

The Blues’ Wilson Torres slashed to the basket for the two points and made his one free throw to make it 49-50 at 8:03.

Ryerson’s Adam Voll recorded a huge dunk off a pick and roll with teammate Aaron Best to swing the momentum once again. From there, the Rams would go on a 10-0 run to make it 49-60. Devin Williams would end the Blues’ scoring drought at 5:45.

The combination of poor shooting and fouls led to a 61-75 deficit for the Blues going into the fourth quarter.   

In the fourth, Devin Johnson continued to be neutralized by the Rams’ big men in the middle and by defensive wing players who were able to keep the Blues’ star player isolated. The Rams strong inside presence forced the Blues to take several contested three pointers by constricting the passing lanes.

Despite his early struggles, Devin Johnson was named player of the game for the Blues with a team leading 19 points. Manny Sahota, Wilson Torres, and Daniel Johansson also scored in double digits for the Blues.

  The Rams’ Roshane Roberts was named player of the game for Ryerson. Ammanuel Diressa and Roberts, who both scored 17 points, and Kadeem Green, who scored 15 points and recorded three blocks, led the Rams to their 79-94 victory.

In a post-game interview, second year Blues guard Oluwaseun Olutogun acknowledged his team’s good ball movement in the first half. Moving forward, he believed the team needed better focus, as well as needing to “stay cleaner” on offense throughout their games. 

The Blues are tied for seventh spot on the OUA leaderboard with Laurentian and Algoma. Ryerson shares the top spot with the Ottawa Gee-Gees.