Winless in nine games, Ridgebacks remain ‘positive’

(From left) Ridgebacks' forward Ammar Hassan, student trainer Faheem Hack and guard AJ Cummings share a laugh during practice. Photo credit: Shaun McLeod

Family is a word that’s commonly heard at Ontario Tech’s men’s basketball practice. Almost every huddle is punctuated by the words “family on three.

“Down by 50, down by 30, down by 10, up by 10, we stick together because that’s what family is supposed to do,” said Ridgebacks’ guard Graddy Kanku.

The season hasn’t been kind to the team playing its inaugural season on the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) basketball circuit. Through nine games they are winless in conference play, but the team isn’t letting that affect its camaraderie.

“We’ve only been together since August, but It feels like we’ve known each other for 10 years,” said AJ Cummings, a first-year guard from Ajax, Ont.

Team members have maintained a positive attitude through every difficult situation. Big losses, hard practices and playing time fluctuations haven’t affected the young team’s positive outlook, said forward Ammar Hassan.

Ridgebacks’ head coach Greg Francis has been reserved in what he expects from his team early on in the season. Now that it’s getting closer to the halfway point in the schedule Francis is looking for his team to be more consistent with its effort when it comes to the little things.

“It’s really hard to sustain a high level of play with nine rookies,” said Francis, “but it’s what’s necessary to win.”

Through the first eight games, Kanku’s play has stood out as a bright spot. Kanku is currently sixth in the OUA in scoring, averaging 20.1 points per game, but is looking for more than just personal success in the second half of the season.

“I feel like there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Kanku. “I’d rather have a win than just having a lot of points.”

Ontario Tech’s players knew getting that first win could take time.

Francis has always preached that learning to play the right way is something that wouldn’t happen quickly.

“All we can think is positive, we know this is a process,” said Cummings.

The Ridgebacks fell 97-82 to the Toronto Varsity Blues on Saturday. The game was tied going into the fourth quarter but the Ridgebacks were unable to close out the game down the stretch.

Ridgebacks' guard AJ Cummings makes a three-point shot against the Toronto Varsity Blues Nov. 23. Photo credit: Shaun McLeod

Cummings scored 20 points, hitting on four of five three-point shots to lead the Ridgebacks and the entire starting lineup was in the double digits for the first time.

Help for the team may be coming in the form of 6-foot-8 forward Amara Ba from Canadian Topflight Academy after the winter break. The Ridgebacks are working on having Ba ready to play in January and Francis hopes his mix of size and perimeter skill will help the team going forward.

The Ridgebacks will once again look to get their first win when they face the 6-4 Queen’s Golden Gaels on Nov. 29 in Kingston, Ont.