The Niagara River Lions are seeking a little Carleton success in 2021

VANCOUVER, BC – With 15 U SPORTS National Championships in the last 20 years, the Carleton Ravens have a winning pedigree. Maybe there’s something in the water at the Ottawa school; perhaps it’s the luck of having a team name that people understand, unlike their uOttawa foes, the Gee-Gees. 

Whatever it is, the Ravens know how to win and have established themselves as one of Canada’s top sporting dynasties over the last several years. However, the Niagara River Lions have not had as much success in their brief history, failing to make the CEBL final in their first two campaigns. 

With the Ravens’ recipe and process having a proven record in Canadian basketball, the River Lions are doing what they can to cut themselves a slice of the Carleton cake. 

River Lions Head Coach Vic Raso won three U SPORTS championships as a player with the Ravens. Meanwhile, legendary Carleton Head Coach Dave Smart serves as an Executive Coach and Regional Scout with the Niagara club. From the top of CEBL the organization, Carleton products pave the way toward success. 

On their 2021 roster, the River Lions boast current Ravens in 2020 U SPORTS-CEBL Player of the Year Lloyd Pandi and UBC Thunderbirds transfer Grant Shephard. At the same time, five-time National Champion and former Raven Guillaume Boucard also wears Niagara’s colours. 

Ravens capture sixth straight CIS Final 8 championship title with 101-79  victory over Calgary Dinos - Go Ravens
Boucard with the Ravens (U SPORTS)

Although the 2021 CEBL season is still in its infancy, the River Lions have seen both sides of the ledger. They got out to a quick start, defeating the Ottawa BlackJacks, Smart and Pandi’s former team, 103-78. However, their momentum quickly stopped in their second game, falling 104-81 to the Fraser Valley Bandits. 

Despite their most recent result, there is hope that a bit more energy and the Carleton connections can push them to more wins in the coming games. For Raso, he knows that his trio of former Ravens come with the work ethic and ability to succeed in Canadian basketball. 

“It’s more so the habits that are ingrained in you to be successful at Carleton,” said Raso after the loss to Fraser Valley. “I trust that those guys have some winning habits, and that’s why I like having them.”

Victor Raso with Carleton. Raso is now the River Lions Head Coach. (Getty Images)

While Pandi’s five points performance is not indicative of his offensive abilities, adding the former BlackJack was a positive part of the offseason for Raso. Although the former Raven turned Head Coach was not pleased with his team’s execution against the Bandits, having a talent like Pandi is something they take seriously. 

“Lloyd is awesome; he’s a young kid who works his ass off and does everything we ask him,” said Raso. “He’s only got one university season under his belt, so we take a lot of pride in having him for the summer and being accountable for his growth.”

Pandi knows he can be better than his contributions on Tuesday. “I felt like I have to bring a bit more energy,” he waxed.  “I feel like I didn’t do everything I could to help my team win tonight. Being one of the youngest guys on the court, I feel like I should be bringing more energy, but next game, we’ll learn from this and bounce back.”

Although Pandi has just one season of Carleton experience, his teammate, Shephard, has none. As a high school star in Kelowna, BC, there were expectations that Shephard would head south of the 49th parallel for the NBA. Instead, however, UBC Head Coach Kevin Hanson wooed him to the Point Grey campus. After three years as a Thunderbird, Shephard transferred to the Ravens in 2020, where he has yet to suit up in a competitive OUA game. The T-Bird turn Raven also played for the Bandits in 2020.

Playing together in the CEBL gives the current Carleton stars a chance to build chemistry before leading the charge for another national championship. “It’s fun, not going to lie to you, just having one of my Carleton guys with me, it’s a cool experience,” said Pandi about playing with his OUA and CEBL teammate. “I’m  just trying to build a good relationship with him ahead of next year so we can have a head start, but it’s fun having him around.”

After finishing second last in the 2020 CEBL Summer Series, the River Lions are pulling at every possible advantage to make a championship run in 2021. With the additions of a Carleton group that knows what the cake of success tastes like, they have the ingredients to get to win the big games; now, they just have to get there.

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