For the past two years, athletics officials at Ontario Tech University have been diligently planning for basketball to arrive on campus.
Now it is officially here.
Ontario Tech basketball teams tipped off their first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference home games against the Queen’s Golden Gaels Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a beginning of a new era on campus,” said Ontario Tech president and vice-chancellor, Steven Murphy. “I’m really excited about it.”
The home opener was a celebration for Ontario Tech fans and faculty as they unveiled a host of new additions for those who come out to the games. The first 1,100 people to show up got free T-shirts, a concession stand was open for the first time and there was a kid zone designed to keep children entertained during games.
“It’s an experience, something that you can bring your family to, your kids to and have a fun, inexpensive afternoon or evening out with your family where you can enjoy some great OUA basketball,” said Ontario Tech athletic director Scott Barker.
Ontario Tech brought out a host of special guests out for the event including former Toronto Raptors general manager and current CEO and president of Canada Basketball, Glen Grunwald, and TSN SportsCentre anchor and Ontario Tech alumnus, Kate Beirness.
The fanfare was not enough as Ontario Tech lost both games to the Golden Gaels, with the women falling 98-64, the men 83-61. Bilan Khadar led all Ontario Tech women with 18 points, while Ammar Hassan led the men, also with 18 points.
Both teams are now 0-3 on the season after road losses at Laurentian and Nipissing.
Still, there’s excitement around the new teams.
“I think the fact that Ontario Tech finally has a basketball team is just the coolest thing ever,” said Beirness who was the public address announcer of the Durham Lords basketball teams from 2005-2007.
The crowd came alive in the second half of the men’s game, loudly supporting Ridgeback players as they went on a run against the Gaels in the third quarter.
“I loved the crowd being so involved with the game,” said guard Graddy Kanku, who put up 13 points in the home opener.
The crowd serenaded Kanku who has been one of the key players early in the season with MVP chants in the third quarter when he went to the free-throw line.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said with a smile. Kanku also scored the first basket at home for the men’s team.
Friday afternoon the school opened up the new Ontario Tech change rooms complete with new leather couches, apparel, TVs and individually named lockers for players on the teams.
“(The locker rooms) got us all pumped up for the first game,” said Kanku. “We’re out here more than anywhere else on campus, we’re really excited about them.”
Men’s basketball head coach Greg Francis is already looking past the home opener and looking to fix the obvious issue with the team.
“It’s just one quarter where we get really manhandled,” said Francis, “When we go on a bad streak, it’s big.”
Ontario Tech students and fans of the Ridgebacks can catch them in action again on Friday, Nov. 8 when they face the Ottawa GeeGees at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre. The women play at 6 p.m., followed by the men at 8 p.m.