Hamilton, ON- When the McMaster Marauders men’s basketball team’s home opener came down to the wire against the Toronto Varsity Blues, forward Riaz Saliu knew what to do: fight.
“We’re about fighting. We’re a fighting team. We’re always going to battle you,” Saliu said. “We’re always going to be in the game if we keep giving our energy.”
Saliu and the Marauders fought until the end. They fought back from a Varsity Blues run in the second half to take the lead after trailing by double digits. They fought for rebounds and crucial possessions. They prevailed 80-78.
They valued their possessions and took good shots, according to forward Nathan Charles. “We knew if we executed what we had to do, it would be a win for us,” Charles said.
Part of the fight for Saliu and Charles came on the interior. With two of McMaster’s big men out – Ares Culley-Bremner and Brendan Amoyaw – they stepped up. Charles said it was a challenge but credited the wings and guards for helping out to guard and rebound.
Charles had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Saliu had six points and four rebounds. While McMaster was outrebounded 46-28, they grabbed enough timely ones for the win.
Saliu had that fighting mentality within him. It’s how he views the sport. “I have to eat something,” he noted. If he doesn’t have an impact on the game, then he feels he’s not doing his job. It doesn’t have to be scoring either. It can be grabbing a rebound or a steal. An energizer, he called himself. He called it a filter in his brain that he can turn on.
“If I don’t do this, I’m not going to play,” he thought. “And I want to play.”
The Oshawa native has played in his first year of university basketball. He’s appeared in 10 games this preseason and regular season. He notched a career-best seven points and six rebounds against the Memorial Sea-Hawks on Sept. 28.
When he entered McMaster, he noticed how different things were both on and off the court. When he played at Orangeville Prep, he was used to playing at a faster pace. Here at McMaster, it’s slower and more methodical. With that, he said he has to know his plays and timing. “It’s a whole different game,” he said.
There’s still plenty of improvement for him. Saliu wants to improve his ball handling and patience. “Becoming more fluid, more smooth because right now I’m a little bit jumpy when I hit the ball,” he said. He wants to finish at the rim better by slowing it down. “Making sure that I am in control,” he added.
Saliu already has a good base to build from. His parents have guided him through his basketball journey and life and continue to do so at McMaster. They taught him the importance of discipline.
“Staying solid,” they told him. They put him in martial arts, which really helped. “I force myself to do something even though I might not want to do it as consistently,” Saliu said.
Whenever he needs a reminder about that, he looks up to his parents. They are his pillars. They show up every day and show that discipline. They always text him and are there for him. If I’m not feeling this, I’m still going to do it, he thinks to himself.
Charles sees Saliu’s fighting spirit. He sees how hard he goes. How he’s not afraid to get in there. How he’s always giving 100 per cent in practice. “He’s a hard hat,” Charles said. “Like people that do construction.”
Saliu is working to build his game with the help of his coaches and teammates as well. They’ve helped him improve his footwork, speed and patience. Charles has as well.
“Watching him do what he do is why I’m able to do what I do,” Saliu said. When he watches Charles, he sees his flexibility – how he takes on so many roles. He sees how he handles the ball and drives as well. How he lock out opposing players on defence and grabs rebounds.
He envisions Charles as who he wants to be when he’s in his second or third year. “He’s our glue guy,” Saliu added. He’s someone he looks up to.
Charles is in his fourth year and third season at McMaster. He has a bigger role than ever before. More minutes, points and rebounds than ever before. When he scored 22 points in a win over the Calgary Dinos on Oct. 21, that was a career-high. When he dished out six assists against the TMU Bold on Nov. 8, it was as well.
He’s worked on his pace – not rushing and slowing the game down – as well as his shooting. He didn’t show it as much against Toronto but that was due to him sacrificing to fill in down low. When he went up against Toronto’s forwards, he trusted himself. “I’m pretty strong myself so I was able to hold my own,” Charles said.
Charles and Saliu held down the frontcourt as the Marauders evened up their regular season record at 2-2. After an eight-game preseason, the team has becoming more of a unit, according to Charles. “We’ve been getting better every game so I’m excited to see where we can go,” he said.
The two of them may be tasked to be the main forwards for future games if Culley-Bremner and Amoyaw are still out. The future slate includes quality teams such as Windsor, Western, TMU, Brock, Ottawa and Carleton. They’ll already have the home opener experience under their belt. They’ll have else something in their mind: the hunger and instinct to fight.
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics