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Carleton coach Dave Smart remains unwilling to accept second best

Dave Smart, coach of the Carleton Ravens, reacts to the play during a game against the Windsor Lancers in OUA WIlson Cup basketball finals action at the Mattamy Centre in Toronto Feb. 28, 2014.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It was late in the first half, and Dave Smart was prowling the sideline like a caged animal, the perpetual scowl on his face belying the reality his Carleton Ravens had the game well in hand.

Philip Scrubb was the object of Smart's wrath in this case, getting chewed out by the head coach during a stoppage in play for some indiscretion during a game last weekend against Windsor.

You would think that a player with the stature of Scrubb, the three-time most valuable player in Canadian Interuniversity Sports men's basketball, might have earned some leverage with the coach.

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But Smart is an equal-opportunity ranter and no one is beyond reproach.

It is that drive, that unwillingness to accept second best, that motivates Smart and has propelled the program at the Ottawa institution to unparalleled success in Canada.

"He always lets you know when you've done wrong," said Scrubb, 21, who came all the way from his hometown of Richmond, B.C., to willingly subject himself to the unrelenting methods of Smart.

"It doesn't matter the way he says it.

"You just take the information and try to do what he says. I don't mind it when he yells. It kind of gets you motivated."

The CIS Final 8 championship is being played in Ottawa this weekend, and Carleton will be seeking its fourth successive national title – and a record 10th in the past 12 years – under Smart's stewardship.

The second-seeded Ravens got off to a good start, surging in the second half to defeat No. 7 McMaster Marauders 82-64 in their opening-game Friday.

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Carleton's semi-final opponent Saturday will be the Alberta Golden Bears, the third-seeded Canada West champion, who defeated No. 6 Saint Mary's Huskies 72-62.

The No. 1-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees beat No. 8 Saskatchewan Huskies 94-73 on Friday night, and will face No. 4 Victoria Vikes (who topped No. 5 McGill Redman 63-54.)

The Ravens won last year's crown by a record 50 points over Lakehead and the team regularly beats up on U.S. NCAA Division 1 teams in exhibition games that Smart works into Carleton's schedule every year.

This year, Carleton has a 3-1 record against U.S.-based teams, including a 95-82 win over top-10 ranked Wisconsin on Aug. 21. Two days later, Carleton took Syracuse, currently the NCAA's seventh-ranked outfit, into overtime before losing 69-65.

"Let's put it this way," one admiring CIS official said of the strength of Carleton's team this season. "If Carleton doesn't win it all this year, Smart should be fired."

Even if Carleton does not make Sunday's final, there is no denying the impact Smart has made on the Canadian basketball landscape.

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Although Carleton was upset last Sunday by the Gee-Gees in the Ontario University Athletics championship game – ending a 55-game win streak against CIS opponents – other than bragging rights, it was relatively meaningless.

Both schools had already sewn up berths at the Final 8 – and the setback might only serve to be the perfect wake-up call for the Ravens, if they even needed one.

Smart demands perfection, and Ottawa counterpart James Derouin said it is that single-mindedness that propels the Carleton program to such great heights year after year.

"One of the things that Dave has said to me is, that people just don't understand, people just don't know, what a CIS coach goes through – the hours and the time," Derouin said. "And I can relate, we've been up there the last couple of years.

"It's not like the U.S., where you make big money. And it is even more stressful to have to maintain that level of excellence that Dave has been able to do. Every basket for him seems to be the end of the world, and that's how he coaches. I think that message gets to his players."

Of course, it helps to have the horsepower on the court, and Carleton has that, beginning with Scrubb, the team's point guard.

Older brother Thomas Scrubb is also a member of the Ravens, and the forward was honoured as the country's top defensive player this week.

And then, you have Smart, who was chosen as the country's top coach for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time overall.

Smart, who was born in 1966, is not the type to toot his own horn about Carleton's success, preferring to pass on most of the credit to the players. He claimed he had no idea Carleton's win streak was at 55 before last Sunday's setback.

"I don't pay attention to any of that stuff," he said. "I literally have no idea what that stuff is. Hopefully, we'll still win at a high level for the next four or five years."

Jennifer Brenning, the Carleton University athletics director, said Smart's attention to detail on the basketball court is second to none.

"Probably one of the hardest working coaches I know, from studying film to his game preparation to his recruiting," Brenning said. "He's everywhere recruiting all the time, looking for that talent and the type of player that will fit his personality and his system."

For Windsor coach Chris Oliver, it is the game-in and game-out consistency that sets Carleton apart.

"What is remarkable to me is that they never have the bad loss," he said. "We've been really good. We've been in the top 10 for eight straight years. But we have those games where we will lose to a team under .500. It's just that one day where you don't show up mentally or you don't show up physically and you get beat.

"That just doesn't happen with Carleton."

Ottawa ran up a regular-season record of 20-2, both its setbacks coming against Carleton, which headed into the OUA playoffs undefeated at 22-0.

Although Ottawa had lost 18 consecutive times to Carleton dating to 2007, before finally breaking through in the OUA final, Derouin said knowing a juggernaut lurks on the campus across town has kept him hungry.

"I don't think I'd be working as hard as I do to get my guys ready if I didn't know what is out there," he said. "I would play Carleton every weekend. It's so much fun for me because it is the ultimate challenge."

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