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Canada basketball
Nicholas Davis

In his own words – Doc Ryan

For the past 15 years Peter “Doc” Ryan has been an Assistant Coach with the St. Francis Xavier (St. FX) Men’s Basketball team. Many of those years with his good friend Coach Steve Konchalski who retired from St. FX last year (March 2021).

Doc also spent 12 years as an Assistant Coach with the Canadian Men’s National Program. He also managed to squeeze in 17 years as the head coach of the St. FX Women’s team and eight years as the Head Coach of the men’s team at Dalhousie.

Doc was the AUS Coach of the Year in 1999-2000. But before all that coaching, as a player, he was Second Team All-Canadian in 1976-77 (UQTR), AUS First Team All-Star in 1977-78 and AUS Second Team All-Star in 1978-79 (St. FX).

Most of the aforementioned information can be found on St. FX’s website.

A story best told by Doc Ryan himself:

I was born in Dutch Antilles, Aruba. Then my parents went to Montserrat, and from there went to Montreal. I then lived with my aunt in New York but came back to Montréal to finish high school. While in high school I pretty much filtered back and forth between New York and Montreal.

I had a pretty good childhood, you know average, nothing special. I played a lot of sports -- football, hockey, baseball, basketball. I was a pretty good athlete.

I spent my summers growing up in the projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York in Brooklyn. I started playing basketball when I was seven or eight years-old. But even though I was a much better football player, I developed a real passion for basketball. I just kept playing and I got better.

There were a lot of hustlers and pimps in the neighbourhood. Basketball kept me out of gangs and stuff and off the street. As I got older, the guys in the neighbourhood kind of protected me because they knew basketball was an avenue to get me out.

But my cousin was probably the most instrumental factor in my life with regards to playing basketball. His name is Austin Finnigan, better known as Clem the Gem. I lived with him at my aunt’s house, and we just balled pretty much every day, every summer.

We went park to park! We played at the Rucker Tournament and played at a major playground called The Hole in Brooklyn which is famous. I got a chance to play with and against a lot of pros early in my career which is what really helped my development.

Back in Montreal, I got a chance to try out for the Quebec Provincial team in 1970 and we won a Gold Medal at the Canada Games. Then from there I got a tryout with the National Team which was out in B.C., and I got cut from that team. Now there were people like Ken Shields, who was at that tryout who said I should have made that team. And I really felt I should have made that team.

I was 16 years old at the time and the only Black player at the camp. And even though most of the guys were all older, I was good enough to make that team.

After I left tryout camp, I left Canada pretty much and went down to the States. I ended up getting a scholarship to Knoxville College in Tennessee. I went there for one year. It was at Knoxville I got my nickname Doc.

There was a kid in the park, and he was considered the best player in the area, and we hooked up. His name was Doctor P … Petey. I played him and after I beat him, the guys started calling me Doctor P. It started out Doctor P from Tennessee.  My boys just shortened it to Doc.

After I left Knoxville, I went to Florida A&M. I graduated from FAMU in 1976 and wanted to get a tryout with the National team. But by the time I got back to Montreal the team was preparing for the 1976 Olympics. I had missed the tryouts and Jack Donahue said it was too late to join.

Having said that some of my friends and I were asked to put together a scrimmage team to play against some of the other countries who were in Montreal for the Olympics. We played against Cuba, Puerto Rico ... we would scrimmage with them at McGill University. We held our own. We had a nice squad.

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It’s ironic though, a lot of the guys we played against on the Puerto Rican team I had played against growing up in New York … Butch Lee, Hector Blondet. I said, what are you guys doing up here. They said they “were transplanted from Puerto Rico so they called us New Yorican.”

Right after the Olympic Games in 1976, I ended up going to the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières on a partial scholarship.  I led the nation in scoring averaging 30.6 points a game and 19 rebounds. I was second in rebounding. I put some up some numbers man.

Here’s a funny story. My cousin calls me up the other day from New York. I am in class. He says, “Doc, guess who I am hanging out with now.” And I said who? He says, “I am at the country club, and I play golf with Dr. J (Julius Erving).”

My cousin says they started talking basketball. So, Dr. J says, “who was that guy back in the day from Quebec who was putting up video game numbers?” It was kind of interesting to hear Dr. J remember that from so long ago.

After putting up those numbers at UQTR I was named an All-Canadian and I made the National Team that summer. But it was an interesting story how I got to camp.

I had gone down to Halifax to pick up my All-Canadian Award and Jack Donohue and I ended up flying back on the same plane. So, Jack says to me on the plane, “I would be interested in having you try out for the National Team.”

At that point in time, I knew how good I was … not blowing any smoke. So, I told him I would be honoured to play for your team. He says, “no Doc, I want you to try out.” And I said, coach I would be honoured to play for your team. Then he says, “Doc, the operable words here are try out.”

I said, coach I am not trying out. I am going to make that team. And needless to say, I made the team and started for the next four years.

People always ask me what position I played. Back then I played one through five. Whatever coach needed I did. I jumped centre at times because I had a pretty good vertical. But I could also handle the ball. I learned that growing up in New York. I also used to guard pretty much every position.

For four years I guarded the best scorers in the world every night we played. Oscar Schmidt from Brazil, Sergei Belov from Russia, Pierluigi Marzorati from Italy, Ruben Rodriguez from Puerto Rico ... so on and so forth. Every team we played I got myself against the top scorer.

Playing for Team Canada, I had a great experience. The guys were all positive. We were very tight. Guys like Leo Rautins, Jim Zoet, Martin Riley, Romel Raffin. We went through hell and high water in a lot of different countries. We really bonded together well.

The reason why we were so cohesive and as good as we were, was because of Jack Donohue. He had a way of really bringing people together. Guys would run through a wall for him. He brought out the best in us.

One of the tougher times we had as a team was when we found out Canada wasn’t going to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. We were in Ottawa when we found out. The guys were pretty much demoralized because we felt we had a good shot at going over there and winning a medal.

After that the team kind of disbanded and I retired the next year. At least I tried to.

I was coaching at Dalhousie at that time. Jack was building a new group -- Karl Tilleman and John Hatch were on that team. Jack brought me in at Christmas to help coach the team. We played the first game of the Cuba Challenge in Windsor and we lost. The next game Jack asked me to suit up. I started in the back court, and we won the next two games.

But that was it for me after that. I continued to coach at Dalhousie for the next eight years. I was the first Black coach in the CIAU. After I left Dalhousie, I went to St. FX and Father Keough asked me to stay for two years and if I liked it, I could stay. If not, I can move on.

The rest is history. I ended up coaching the women’s team for 17 years. And then after that it brings us to the present where, for the past 17 years, I’ve been teaching at Frank H. Macdonald Middle School and assistant coaching with the Men’s team at St. FX.

Basketball has pretty much meant everything to me. I met my wife through basketball. I got to travel around the world numerous times. Basketball has opened many doors for me. It got me to college.

What many people don’t realize is that I have five degrees right now. And now, thanks to basketball, I am doing what I love and that’s teaching.

Whether on the basketball court or in the classroom, I really enjoy teaching the kids. So that’s where you will find me.

Doc's Acknowledgements:

As good as basketball has been to me I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the people who were instrumental in helping me along the way.

My dear friends Cheryl and Denis Coleman who balled with me at Tennessee. Vic Aurawood who coached me at Tennessee. Clem Johnson, Ed Moran and Ajac Triplett who hooped with me at Florida A&M. My mentor in high school, Patrick Thornhill in Quebec. Gil Booty Green and Greg Winston and V. Gurunlian who played with me at X. Mickey Fox and all the teammates from our Sr, men's National championship team, Coach Ken and Cathy Shields, All of my Brothers I went to battle with on the National teams , the people I had the pleasure of coaching like Donna Sanderson, Theresa MacCuish and the rest of the crew. My good Buddy the infamous Coach K. Harley Lawrence and Ivor Lewis fierce competitors who also helped me Coach my teams at X.I also want to thank Tyrell Vernon and Denton Anthony who I now coach with at X.  A shout out and thank you to Steve Nash and especially Rowan Barrett whom I had the pleasure of coaching. Also Jack Donohue and his family.

And a special thank you to my family for all their love and support.

Apologies to the people I might have missed.

Appreciate you all,