Burridge Gym will be hosting its first meaningful basketball games this weekend, with the men’s and women’s teams kicking off their season with two home games. But these games mark a changing of the guard for Marauder basketball, with no member of the Raso family representing McMaster this year.
Victor Raso was the men’s 2011-12 team captain. He won the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He also captured an OUA All-Star nod for his play last year. But this year, Raso won’t be representing McMaster, or any university for that matter, on a basketball court.
In the summer, Raso suffered his second concussion in four months, which caused him to sit out from playing basketball. With such a dangerous and sensitive injury, it was important for Raso to take time to ensure he was back to full health. McMaster head coach Amos Connolly wanted his player to feel free of stress to get back on the court, but giving Raso this space led to a breakdown in communication.
“There was a period we did not talk. I thought what he needed most was space and not having the pressure of thinking about the team or having to answer to me,” said Connolly.
But this was interpreted in another way by the former All-Star. To Raso, their relationship was evaporating, and this caused him to rethink about his role on the roster. “When our relationship deteriorated, a million things ran through my mind,” said Raso.
Victor is the son of a former Marauder bench boss, Joe Raso. The coach’s dismissal from the program followed his son’s first season in the Maroon and Grey, and Victor admits that what happened with his father is something that still bothers him.
“At Mac, it’s always a lot for me to play basketball. With my dad being there, it was always a lot. It was a constant struggle; I had to be completely bought.”
Connolly sympathizes with his ex-captain’s situation, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with how things were dealt with.
“When your dad is a legendary coach, you are in a tough spot,” said Connolly. “You either want to be playing for your dad, or any other kid on the team. But the problem is when you start to lose confidence, and you’re in that weird middle place.”
Things turned sour between the two parties. Without communication, Victor Raso no longer felt a part of the program. “Once the relationship with Coach Connolly stopped, I felt like that was it for me,” Raso said.
But if you ask Connolly about the communication breakdown, it’s a different story.
“The lack of communication was not weeks at a time. I have text messages and emails to meet with him. But communication is clearly a two-way street,” said Connolly.
After much deliberation and talks with friends, Raso came to the final decision to walk away from McMaster on Sept. 11, two days before a team meeting at the start of the semester. The combination of what transpired between his father and the administration, with the fallout with Coach Connolly, and his own step away from buying into the program were the motives in his decision, and Raso felt like this was the best thing for him.
“At the end of the day, you have to make personal decision. This decision happened to be at the expense of a group of guys that I love and a program that I love. But if it’s tough on me and stressful on me, it’s something I had to do,” said Raso.
But with summer workouts coming to a close and the school semester gearing up, the timing of the decision had an opportunity to hurt the young team’s development.
“It really put the team in a bad spot,” said Connolly. “The timing could not have been worse. There’s really no reason that Victor could have told me that I wouldn’t have agreed with if he had only been straightforward with me.”
Mac dodged a bullet, with the leadership void being filled on the team shortly after by veteran players Nathan Pelech and Scott Laws. But the timing wasn’t the most damaging part for Connolly; it was losing someone who he had gone through so much with.
“I felt like Victor and I were in this together, because of the situation here. Him playing with his dad not being here and trying to follow his dad is tough on the kid. He’s someone I really cared about. Basketball or not, there’s a relationship that’s been lost that went through some pretty hard times together,” said Connolly.
But to say there is a grudge between the two parties would be a farce. Both sides have moved on from the situation and are looking forward in their respective careers.
Raso is moving on from McMaster and looking to play at another school in the OUA.
“I still love Mac. I love those guys. The last thing I want to do is have something that makes this look like I’m throwing the team under the bus,” said the former captain of his Marauder experience.
Although their relationship came to an abrupt end, Connolly wishes the best for his former player. He shares the blame and wants to mend the relationship eventually with Raso, but for now he hopes that the player finds happiness in his new home.
“I think he’s a really, really good kid and at his core. He is a very good person and has strong character,” said Connolly.
With the beginning of a new season and a fresh young roster, Marauders fans will have to look past the Raso era at McMaster.