On the Ball with Leo Rautins (OffBeat magazine)


On the Ball with Leo Rautins

OffBeat magazine, circa 1990

Leo Rautins is the best basketball player to come out of Canada. Ever. After a standout high school career, Rautins was offered 150 scholarships to American universities. He played one season at Minnesota then transferred to Syracuse. Upon graduation, “White Magic” played for Philadelphia, Indiana and Atlanta in the NBA. This season he was cut in training camp from the New Jersey Nets. Over the summer, Rautins was in town for the Canadian team training camp (he has started on the national team since grade eleven). While here, he was a guest on CFUV’s On the Ball. Here is some of that interview:

 Guy MacPherson: How does Ken Shields compare to your coach at Syracuse, Jim Boeheim?
Leo Rautins: Jim Boeheim was very emotional. He was a big screamer. I had to develop a thick skin but he’s mellowed over the years. Coach Shields just comes up and talk to me and respects me as a person. If he doesn’t like something, he just pulls me aside and says, “Well, listen, why don’t you try this?” I like that. [Former national team coach Jack] Donahue treated me the same way. Some players he would yell at, but he knew I responded better to coming up and saying, “Leo, why don’t you just try this?”

GM: Let’s go back to your high school days in Toronto. You were a legend – 6’6” in grade 9 and could dunk. Is it true you used to drive down to the States to get in pick-up games because they weren’t good enough in Toronto?
LR: I’d go anywhere. I played on four teams in high school. I’d play three games a night. I’d play my high school game right after school then go play a couple of men’s league games. Buffalo was a two-hour drive and I’d fill up the car with my friends, scoot down there and play whenever I could. Basically, I just played at every free opportunity I had. I used to work on my school work during lunch or I’d do it before school. Or there’d be a lot of late nights getting it done. I think you can do it if you set your goals. I had to. I wanted to play. I wanted to be an NBA player and I wanted to be able to pick and choose which school I went to in the States. So you have to set your goals and you can’t go without academics. I found the time and I did the work, but it was tough because we played all the time.

GM: Wouldn’t a school in Canada have interested you?
LR: Well, it’s a funny story. For me to do what I wanted to do, I don’t think I could have done it in Canada. Okay? It just wouldn’t be possible. To play in the pros you need exposure. You need to have enough people talking about you to become a first-round pick. However, I would listen if somebody wanted to talk to me and at least sell myself. If I’m supposedly the best Canadian high school basketball player, they should at least make an effort to come and get me. Only one Canadian school did – Simon Fraser – and they play an all American schedule (just about). I was really disappointed about that.

GM: Do you think it was because they knew you’d be going south?
LR: Okay, let’s take an example of Clarion State. I can give you a list of schools like that. They didn’t stop recruiting me. They knew there wasn’t a chance in heck they’d get me but they were ready to charter private jets, do all-out recruiting pitches to get me. But no Canadian school would even pick up the phone and say, “Hey, listen, why don’t you just give us a shot? Here’s what we have.” They could have done a lot of different things like tie in the national team. There are different ways they could have sold me coming to play, but no effort made.

GM: So you chose Minnesota, stayed there for a year, then filed. What was the problem there?
LR: Again, I didn’t just want to be a jock. The degree was very important to me but in Minnesota the school was highly de-emphasized. The academics were not a big part of the program. As a matter of fact, you were pretty much told what to take and when to take it, and the grades were taken care of. A lot came out after I had left there. There were lawsuits and grand jury hearings and so forth. And my coach, Jim Dutcher, eventually had to quit the program because of all these things. So the bad news about Minnesota came out and kind of justified why I left there. Plus we hust had some wild people there and it wasn’t the environment I wanted to be in. I think basketball-wise, had I stayed there, I could have had a good career. I started my freshman year and with all the trouble we had on our team, I still had a solud year, making the all-Big Ten rookie team. But it just wasn’t the place for me. I had to get out of there.

GM: What was it like as a rookie in the NBA playing with Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney on the defending world champion Philadelphia 76ers?
LR: They were great. We got along very well as a team. There were never any problems. One advantage coming to a veteran team is you learn quite a bit very quickly. They’re very helpful. Training camp alone is like learning about the NBA in two weeks. These guys will sit there and pull you aside. Doc will come up and talk to you, tell you what’s going on, not only on the court but off the court as well. Anytime you’d need to talk, they were always very open. So I think that, in that respect, to start out with Philadelphia was great because I learned quite a bit very quickly.

GM: Charles Barkley has said that Julius Erving was kind of aloof, not very approachable. He said there wasn’t much team camaraderie when he got there. But you found that to be different.

LR: Well, I don’t know what Charles is looking at. I think Charles is a little wild, very outspoken. Brash, I guess would probably be the best word. And I think that maybe he was a little taken aback by Doc because here’s a man… How many people have such an image as he has? I mean, he’s absolutely untarnished. He’s perfect in terms of on and off the court. In real life, when I met him, I thought he was even more than that (if that can possibly be). He was just a class act. You have a guy who’s literally a legend sitting in your locker room and he’s the politest, nicest person there. And I think maybe Charles had a problem with that because how can you have an attitude if maybe the greatest in the game is sitting three seats down from you saying, “Thank you. Yes, sir” being just as polite as can be? But for me, Doc always put things in perspective. When I got hurt, he came up to me and said, “Listen, now that you’re hurt, you have an opportunity to get other things in your life organized. And maybe it’s a chance for you to sit back. Maybe other aspects of your life aren’t being taken care of. Well, this is an opportunity to do it.”

GM: One view of the NBA is that the coaches don’t make that much of a difference. Roll the ball out and let ’em play. Is there much coaching going on in the NBA?
LR: Oh, there definitely is. College ball is a coach’s game, not a player’s game. Look at Michael Jordan at North Carolina. He was put on a leash. In college you can take a mediocre team and be competitive simply because you put guys that aren’t good players out there just to get in players’ way. You can do a lot of things and get away with a lot of things that in the pros you just can’t do. The pros is where the players play. And if people say there’s not a lot of coaching, they’re wrong. There’s a tremendous amount of plays and sets. Defensively, guys are going to score. I mean, you can play a great defense against Michael Jordan and you’re not going to stop him. All you can do is try to contain him and make it a little bit more difficult for him. So defensively there’s a tremendous amount of strategy on how to play. And offensively there are so many plays and sets and picks.

GM: It’s tough for Canadians to make it in the NBA, isn’t it?
LR: No, it’s not tough for Canadians; it’s tough for anybody. It has nothing to do with being Canadian, though a lot of people like to think that.

GM: But you were saying earlier that you need that name and that recognition from playing in the U.S. If a player of your caliber or better played in Canada, it would be difficult for him to make the NBA.
LR: But it would be no different from a very good player playing in a small college in the States that nobody had heard of. Today it’s more sophisticated. Today they would know about a great player in Canada. Six or seven years ago they wouldn’t. Today they would. The scouting is basically world-wide with international basketball. So it’s nothing to do with being Canadian. A lot of it is luck and timing. You just have to work your tail off.

On the Ball is CFUV’s weekly sports discussion show. Guests from the world of sports, including basketball, volleyball, hockey, baseball, football, and everything in between, speak with a host each Thursday from 1:30 to 2:00 pm.

CFUV history lesson (Offbeat magazine)

CFUV history lesson

Offbeat magazine, January 1989

“Sure. I’ll write an article for Offbeat. Any topic you want. You’ll get back to me? Fine.”

For the next three days I would sit and daydream (in the evening I would lie and nightdream) about the assignment I would get. Maybe a political piece. An interview with the prime minister. Perhaps an investigative piece. I’ll find out who really shot JFK. Why, even a review of a concert or play would be fun. Free shows in exchange for publicity. I could live with that. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that I would be pleased as punch with just about any assignment I was given.

Yes, I was beginning to, when the phone rang and interrupted all that. The editors, in their infinite wisdom, wanted an article on the history of CFUV. When you want an article on history you go to someone who appreciates history, enjoys reading history, perhaps even studied history in school. That’s why I was dumbfounded when they asked me to write about history. I hate reading about history, I took one history course during my illustrious university career (I passed with a ‘D’. Needless to say I passed on other history courses offered). Hell, I don’t even like period pieces on TV or the movies.

But I wasn’t about to pass up my first writing assignment. I’d be thrilled to stay back at the office and rummage through files while the other writers are off at free concerts or interviewing the rich and famous. No problem.

Perhaps why I, and countless others, detested history class was the subject matter. It was always boring. High school teachers and university professors couldn’t (or didn’t) spice it up even the tiniest bit to make it more palatable to their students. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I couldn’t relate to Jacques Cartier or Capt. George Vancouver. (Although I did pay attention when the name of Sebastian Cabot came up. I respected him greatly. Not only was he a top notch explorer, but a fine actor, to boot.)

After reading through the files, I found that history is history. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1665 or 1965, history is boring. But please keep reading. I’ll make this as full of fun and frivolity as I possibly can. (My apologies to Jack Showers.) I just hope I can remember the dates. That aspect of History class ensured that I would be taking Sociology 100 next semester to boost my GPA.

When you think of CFUV today, you think of one thing – a station you turn to for variety. But it wasn’t always like that. When CFUV started way back in 1965 – and I know that’s the correct year because the files are right here beside me (I would have done much better in History had I been permitted to use my texts during the exams) – you couldn’t tune it in at all. Shocking, n’est pas? And it wasn’t even called CFUV. No, the station broadcasting out of the basement of the Student Union Building was then known as CKVC. Even though the young station could not be found on the radio dial, it was being heard by many students – whether they wanted to listen or not. Not only was CKVC being broadcast closed-circuit in the SUB, but also into each student’s room on residence. Every room was equipped with a volume control – but no on/off switch. Don’t you just love it?

CKVC stuck around for a few years. In 1967 they transferred their studios across the street to the “V” Hut at Finnerty and Arbutus. There the student operators continued to bring their brand of radio utopia to everyone else on campus. Everything was going along honky-dorry until 1970 when a group of thugs (you know who you are) broke into the studios and stole all the equipment, smashing what was left. CKVC could not afford to continue. The club folded. So ends chapter one.

The 1970s were a decade of deadening disco, mundane movies, and funky fashion. Nothing happened culturally in the ’70s anywhere. So it is not surprising that the students of UVic were without an intellectually/musically-stimulating radio station to call their own. It wasn’t until 1980 that the idea of resurrecting CKVC was bandied about by a number of students who had worked at other campus radio stations. They presented their ideas to the Alma Mater Society. The AMS was interested. The UVic radio club was formed in the fall of 1981. Chapter two begins.

Am I losing any of you? I’m trying my best, man, but look what I have to work with. Stick it out, though. There’s a great ending.

A chap named Robert Osbourne (… Jacques Cartier… George Vancouver… same idea. They’re just names before my time) was hired to get CKVC going again. Only it wasn’t called CKVC anymore. It changed to CKLR. In 1982 the oft-maligned but truly visionary student population of aforementioned university voted in a referendum. Approximately 90 percent of those voting marked their ballots “Oui.” What it amounted to was CKLR would enter confederation and each student would buck up three dollars for it.

So CKLR was virtually the same as CKVC, only with a smaller listening audience… Wait, run that back. Smaller? That’s right, junior, the newer version of UVic radio played only to the SUB. No speakers in the dorms this time around. Unless you happened to be waiting for a bus inside or showing off your penmanship on the bathroom walls, you couldn’t hear the station.

By 1983 CKLR was “on the air” (Read: in the bathrooms) 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. In October of that year Steve Lebitschnig was hired as the first full-time station manager. And hey, how about another name change? You got it. From CKLR to CFUV. From here on out, kids, it’s no longer history. I lived this. This is part of me. I signed up for the radio club during UVic’s club day as a sportscaster, but had to fill out a generic info sheet which included, among others, questions on musical preferences. Lebitschnig called and asked me to come up to the station. He was one of those guys who smoked an evil-smelling cigar and wore his rug on sideways. I’ll never forget what he told me: “Kid,” he said, “maybe you’re good, maybe you’re not so good, but take my advice: get out of sportscasting and do a jazz show.” “Gee,” said I, “you really think so, Mr. L?” (I couldn’t pronounce his name.) “You’re on next week.” Bang. Just like that.

O.K. I took a bit of dramatic licence there but you get the idea. I walked in off the street and did my first jazz show a week later – and have continued to do one to this day. (Monday, 5 – 6:30 p.m…. Yeah, and if I had a film clip I’d show it, too.)

In contrast, today’s rookie goes through weeks of training and months of hanging around before she/he/it – we’re not always sure up at CFUV – is even permitted to listen to the station. And then there’s the painful and degrading hazing ceremony for each newcomer. (That’s just a joke, Dr. Petch. Lighten up.) The greenhorn’s training in my day consisted of not talking for the first program.

But I digress. Let’s move on to Chapter three. CFUV went “on the air” (Read: really on the air) December 17, 1984. First CFUV deejay on the public airwaves? Uh… Cathy Cavin? I can’t give that to you. Uh… Who is Cathy Cavin? That’s right. Always remember to put it in the form of a question. The first newscast was read by future, and now ex-Station Manager Brian Webster.

After guiding the little station that could up and over the proverbial hill, Lebitschnig left. He simply got too frustrated at people’s mispronunciations of his name. In a move heralded by one and all (except, ironically, Harold), the hiring committee chose a successor whose name everyone could pronounce, Brian Webster. Under Webster, the studios expanded, and Offbeat began publishing. The first one hit the newsstands in May 1986 and has been churning out Pulitzer prize-winning articles ever since.

When Webster left last summer, Tim Chan took over the reigns. (Boy, this Dictionary of Clichés is really coming in handy. What a worthy investment.) And here we are. Present day. Right now. At this juncture. Today. For the nonce. (Not to mention this thesaurus.) Chan will be here for the big increase in wattage. It’s set to happen any day now, as of this writing. And what would a new chapter in the life of UVic radio be without a name change? (Don’t answer that, dummy, it’s rhetorical.) Oh sure, we’ll still be CFUV, but our friends will call us FM102.

Well, class, that’s history for today. Sorry about the ending, but when I promised a great one the night was much younger and the possibilities seemed endless. So sue me.