Leo Rautins is a hoops legend in Canada and around the globe.
Father-son competition is special. A case of, ‘anything you can do I can do better’ is a unique kind of relationship within a family. However in this case, competition isn’t between father and son, it’s between basketball and hoop, and the efforts to restore a nation back to it’s former success.
When Leo Rautins played for Team Canada the country was at an elite level internationally. He’s always known Canada belongs at the top, and when he was hired on as head coach of the men’s senior team in 2005 he got the opportunity to prove it.
This past summer all four of Canada’s national teams qualified for the FIBA World Championships next year in Turkey. This includes the men’s and women’s senior teams and the cadet boys and girls. Only four other countries in the world accomplished the same feat (Argentina, U.S.A., Australia and Spain). Part of it had to do with Rautins and his perseverance to bring Canada and his men’s squad back into the global spotlight.
“In 2007 we set two goals. To get to the Olympics, and to get to the wildcard Olympic qualifier, we did that. Then we tried to qualify for the Olympics at the wildcard, we weren’t ready yet [but did make it to the second round]. This year the goal was to get to the worlds,” says Rautins, speaking of his team’s recent accomplishments.
As a youthful team on an international scale, Rautins made a point to carefully assess the pieces.
“This core is young. We are significantly younger on average than most teams. Those couple years are huge on an international scale,” explained Rautins. “But I was confident in terms of what I could do. I believed there were players that people weren’t looking at.”
Confidence is a trait that Rautins carries with him as a coach. It also played an important role in his playing days. After all, he was second to Magic Johnson in the Big 10 conference for assists per game as a freshman. This statistic helps describe the unselfish approach Rautins has for his team, and the people around him.
Wayne Parrish, the executive director of Canada Basketball has worked closely with Leo since 2007. His work as a sports journalist for the Toronto Star in the early 80s familiarized him with Rautins during his playing days at St. Mike’s College School in Toronto. Since then, he has been well aware how valuable he is on and off the court.
“When the team didn’t have much success in 2005, he was out there in the community trying to give back to Canada basketball,” says Wayne. “He is very good at integrating different people and philosophies into the system.”
Before Rautins became a coach he considered himself a student of the game. St. Mike’s High School in Toronto was home to a young Leo Rautins in the late 70s. There he thrived. Rautins remained the youngest player to join Team Canada’s senior team at age 16–that is until Kevin Pangos joined the team in Italy this summer. He carried that momentum into the NCAA where he became an all-purpose weapon for the Syracuse Orange from 1980-1983 after transferring from Minnesota as part of the Big 10’s all- rookie team. As an Orange he averaged 12.1 points, 5.0 assists, and 6.2 rebounds resulting in a first round ticket to the NBA in 1983 as a Philadelphia 76er. Leo Rautins became the first Canadian player to be picked in the first round of an NBA Draft.
“Looking back on it now it certainly was a fascinating opportunity. Unfortunately there were a lot of circumstances. A lot of things happened that didn’t quite allow my NBA career go the way I’d hoped,” Rautins says, explaining the painful journey he had through a series of knee operations that stumped his time in the League.
He belonged to three teams in the NBA: as a Sixer, an Indiana Pacer (never played on the court as a Pacer because of a salary cap deal) and an Atlanta Hawk. Rautins also played seven years of professional ball in Europe before his retirement.
“Leo was an exceptional athlete,” says Parrish. “There really weren’t many [players] like him at the time.”
Basketball is a pattern that’s woven into the Rautins name. His son Andy is entering his final year at Syracuse U as a redshirt senior guard. His father, who was named to the college’s All Century Team in 2000, also coaches him on the Canadian senior squad.
“Someone at the store or the gym would come up to me and say, ‘Hey I remember your Dad,’ and have nothing but good things to say about him,” says the younger Rautins during a short phone interview. “He’s had such an impact on the city of Syracuse.”
After sitting out for the 07-08’ season because of a torn ACL, he followed up his redshirt year with a solid season as an Orange last year. Andy looks to return even stronger in his final season as a leader and facilitator. “I really want to get back to the [NCAA] Tournament and exceed last year’s results. I want to be a vocal leader and a player that leads by example,” says Rautins.
When speaking with Andy on the phone, it’s easy to spot the similarities between one Rautins and another. Both of them give off a passion for the game, and a calm courteous attitude that demonstrates the leadership that’s gotten them both so far in the game of basketball.
“We’re not that different. We’re on the same page,” says Rautins junior.
That same page is soon to become another chapter of the Rautins testament. Andy will proceed his way into the final season with the Orange, while his father prepares the senior men for fiery competition next summer at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Talk of success has the Canadian basketball community flourishing, and with the Rautins name as its foundation things continue to look upward.