Being the younger sibling of a brother who played basketball, I idolized him like any young sibling would. So I decided to try out for my first rep basketball team in grade three, the Scarborough Blues. I made the team and instantly, I strived to become better than him, but he wasted no time teaching me that goal wouldn’t be accomplished easily. I remember playing against each other on the street until it got dark, losing every single game and being so upset that I didn’t want to say a word to him the rest of the night when we went back inside. This was when my love for the game of basketball became my addiction…an addiction to competing…an addiction to winning. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far for motivation because of him.
By watching my brother win championships at every single level, culminating in a national championship gold medal with the Carleton Ravens, I became corrupted, in a good way. He corrupted me with his habit of working hard, his habit of never being complacent…his habit of winning. These habits served me well throughout my rep, AAU and high school careers where I enjoyed a lot of success.
But that quickly changed when I committed to play basketball at Dalhousie. My first season at Dal we finished 9-11 and lost in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. My second season under new head coach Rick Plato wasn’t any better; we finished the season 6-14 and didn’t make the playoffs at all.
This was not what I had envisioned when committing to Dalhousie or the habit I was used to; losing was foreign to me. The losing was a new and humbling experience, but I had set a goal of helping my team make it to nationals to compete among the country’s best teams, and that wasn’t about to change. However, what did need to change was this new habit of losing, thankfully coach Plato had the winning formula. Along with his coaching staff and new recruits, he changed the culture and brought back the winning I had previously enjoyed.
The following year, through hard work, determination and unmatched heart to win we shocked the conference with a Cinderella playoff run, winning my first AUS championship. We haven’t looked back ever since then; winning has now become a habit for our program. In retrospect, I value the lessons taught by those two losing seasons. They were instrumental in teaching my teammates, and myself how to win, how to become champions. To win three AUS championships in a row, a feat not accomplished in the AUS since 2006 is surreal. Especially when taking into account, the gritty come from behind fashion in which every game was won.
Achieving this historic feat with my team is even more special to me after previously making individual history by setting the AUS record for total career assist, because although the record bears my name…those who know me personally, know that one of my favorite phrases is the saying “before you finish your plate make sure your brother ate.” The phrase is without a doubt reflected and reified in my team’s unselfish style of play that has lead to our success.
Yet, amid all this success, there remains one elusive goal, winning a national championship. With the Final 8 choosing the perfect year to return home to Halifax, as the host, this sets the stage for a storybook ending to what has been an amazing career for me. It means I will have one last opportunity to bring back a sense of pride to a Dalhousie and Halifax community that has embraced me like a child of its own. It’s an opportunity to say thank you for a memorable five years.
Being able to play in front of all the Tigers supporters will be special because I’ll be able to feed off their energy as I have the past three years during AUS playoffs. Although I’m from Toronto, having spent five years in Halifax has given me a sense of pride and attachment to this community. The reason why to me hosting the Final 8 means it’s Halifax against the rest and I’m going to leave it all on the floor one last time before I put the number 11 to rest.
Ritchie Kanza Mata,
Dalhousie Men’s Basketball Team