By John Matisz/London Community News
After a quarter-century's worth of development, Danielle Cowan of the London Ramblers minor basketball organization still believes there's room to grow.
She insists the establishment of the club as a force to be reckoned with on the female side is lovely, yes, but merely a sign of what's to come.
"You have to introduce new things," said Cowan, the Ramblers' president, "make sure the players are on their toes, and keep the coaches on top of new systems."
That's just a sampling of the unisex club's core philosophy, which is centered around avoiding complacency. Simply put, the Ramblers don't stay put.
They have dribbled through the Ontario basketball scene since 1987-88, always striving to improve on last year's totals. Instead of wagging a flag of contention, the 18-team organization has always looked towards the future.
"Since I've been with the program, I've seen it grow and, as a whole, run at a higher level," said Rob Angione, a seven-year Ramblers coach and current bench boss of the Major Midget Girls team. "The caliber of talent — coaching and players — is getting much better."
Since being founded by Cowan's father, Barry Hall, London has slowly become a powerhouse within the province's minor girls basketball circuit. Presently, they have a No. 1 squad (JUEL), two top 10 teams (Major Atom and Bantam) and a top 12 group (Bantam) all jostling for accolades in their respective age brackets.
However, the family-run organization — Cowan's two sisters and brother-in-law also play important roles — lags behind in the male ranks. With its first squad established a decade after Hall created the club though, the boys side has been at a comparative disadvantage since day one.
"Right now, I think we're there with the girls," Cowan said, referring to becoming an elite hub for minor basketball. "The boys will come along."
Continuing to innovate their summer camps and develop their house league system, Cowan added, will be crucial moving forward if they plan on reaching new heights. One newly introduced program in particular, the Ramblers Peer Development camp, has already paid off.
"We're seeing the results of it this year," she expressed.
Proper conditioning, coupled with an ample talent pool, has been the winning recipe for Angione's squad so far this year. After nabbing a gold and a silver through two tournaments in the earlygoings of the 2012 campaign, the Under-16 Ramblers are sitting pretty.
A top 10 ranking by season's end is one of the team's goals. If accomplished, it would be a vast improvement on last year, when the pre-Angione squad finished in the 30s.
"We can come at teams in waves, and I think that's such a huge factor in us doing so well," the Western University alumnus said. "We can wear teams down defensively by using a roster of 10-12 kids in any given game."
As the main feeder group for the JUEL team, Angione — a teacher and basketball coach at Regina Mundi Catholic College — believes the Major Midgets must put team needs first and foremost.
"The true level of compete in these kids is amazing. There's no drop off from my No. 1 player to the 12th," he said, adding the club's "beast of the game" shirt has been awarded to nine different girls thus far over a span of 11 games.
Cowan, who was on the very first Ramblers team back in 1987, said her father always preached far-reaching development techniques like the ones Angione and other coaches have employed. Up until his death five years ago, the 60-year-old basketball enthusiast was heavily involved.
"He was always in the gym," Cowan fondly recalled. "He may not have coached certain players but he was there, always watching and giving little pointers to the kids."