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Wednesday, November 7, 2012


There was no grand ceremony, no "I'm taking my talents to South Beach" type Lebron-esque moment, not that would be his style anyways. A quiet disclosure to long-time basketball followers of McMaster University, a passing mention on a message board and a personal acknowledgement was all that marked the end of Victor Raso's basketball career in the Maroon and Grey of the Marauders.

Not much ink and publicity for of a valued member and starter of the team, and it was certainly understated for the fact that for this first time since 1991 the name "Raso" will no longer appear in the McMaster basketball program.

When you think of Joe Raso, you automatically think "McMaster Basketball"  He has left an indelible mark not only on the university, but also on the Hamilton basketball scene. Raso's imprint can still be seen in Hamilton area basketball with many former Marauders involved in teaching and coaching the game at all levels.   Son Victor became naturally interwoven in the McMaster program.  In fact often times you would see the whole Raso clan, along with Joe's now late Mother in Law Mary, front row Courtside at a McMaster game, clad in Maroon and Grey, cheering on the Marauders.  Practically born into the program, Victor became a fixture at Marauder games, making several journeys to Halifax for the national championships before becoming a teenager. As a young high school  athlete, Victor excelled not only at basketball, but also football, leading St Thomas More as their QB.  There was once a time that Victor would entertain the notion of playing university football at McMaster.  However, a conversation, ironically enough, with McMaster Football Assistant Coach Jon Behie, himself a two-sport star at MAC would set Victor's path in a different direction.  He quietly informed the young Raso that there was a pretty good prospect at Quarterback by the name of Kyle Quinlan ready to cement his place, and later his legacy behind center for McMaster.

Wisely, Victor set his sights on basketball.  There was even the thought of playing basketball at a place other than MAC along with good friend and current NCAA star of Baylor, Brady Heslip. The two had played for the respected Blessed Sacrament program for 13 years.    Brady would eventually head south to Boston College, and then Baylor.  The two remained close as Victor and Joe Raso were just nine rows up at the NCAA's last year when a legend was born as Brady dropped 9 three pointers on  Colarado helping set the stage for a Baylor run to the Elite Eight. 

Victor eventually would don the Maroon and Grey, showing the vaunted Raso passion and zeal for winning, while fashioning a good all-round game built around defensive intensity and three-point shooting . Then after his 1st year at McMaster, it all went sideways for the Raso family.  After 18 years on the job on April 26th 2010 Joe Raso was tersely dismissed by McMaster's new Athletic Director Jeff Giles who cited a decision to take the program in a different direction.   The dismissal stunned many in basketball circles, and became such a big story that Joe was interviewed on Bob McCown's top rated radio show Prime Time Sports. At the time he said

 "I got the corporate handshake,Eighteen minutes for 18 years. I was stunned ... they never ever told me I was in a trouble, I never had a performance appraisal during the season. I never had any reason to worry."

When Joe Raso was named McMaster Men's Basketball Head Coach in 1992, he succeeded Barry Phillps who moved to an administrative position in the Athletic department.  Joe was a natural fit for McMaster.  Hamilton born and bred, he was an OFSAA Champion with St Mary's High School, had just spent a year in his second turn as an assistant under Phillips and had ties to the program that dated back to 1980 when he was a student manager for Don Punch.  The affable, well-spoken coach with the easy smile demonstrated a fiery intensity that led the Marauders to unquestioned success, and earned the program a reputation as one of the elite in Canada, and while a CIAU, and later CIS Championship eluded him, his McMaster career would end with 440 wins,  6 OUA West Championships, 4 OUA Championships, 12 CIAU/CIS appearances and 4 CIAU/CIS Silver Medals.  

Faced with his father's untimely dismissal, Victor Raso was left with a difficult decision, and no one would have begrudged him had he chosen to leave the program.  After a period of reflection he made his choice.  

 "I decided that I loved Mac and that myself and my teammates had an opportunity to bring Mac back to the great program that I grew up with, so I stayed. "

What helped was that Raso's successor was Amos Connolly, a respected coach and teacher in the Hamilton. He was the Baskeball Director at  R.A. Riddell public school, an educational facility geared specifically towards developing elite local athletes.  He was also someone who served under Joe Raso as both a player and assistant coach. Connolly, along with former McMaster Assistant and current Windsor bench boss Chris Oliver were thought to be leading candidates for the position, and ones that would give the program the most natural transition during a difficult time.   

Playing for Coach Connolly was a good experience, one that I will definitely take many lessons from. As a team, we redeveloped some culture and we got better, and I had personal success as well."

During his time at McMaster Victor was named and OUA West All-Star, was among McMaster's leading scorers.  The latter part of the 2011-2012 season which was his third year,  would be marred by a concussion that cost him some of the season, returning only to play n McMaster's OUA Semi-Final defeat to the Carleton Ravens. Though obviously disappointed,  the loss was seen as a learning experience for a young program ready to take its place once again as the CIS's elite.  Victor Raso would have been in his fourth year this year, and likely a co-captain in 2012-2013. Instead, when he walked off the court at Waterloo, it would be his final appearance for the McMaster basketball program. The decision to leave the program that he loved and grew up with undoubtedly was an agonizing one for Victor: 

"I put as much into the program as you could ask from any athlete physically, and from a mental standpoint, I put more into that program then anyone should ask of an athlete... Combine that with all the stress that I felt from my unique situation at Mac, I made a personal decision to transfer. "

After making his difficult decision, Victor would take the time to personally reach out to the Courtside Club, a group of ardent, dedicated basketball fans and supporters.  They rarely miss a McMaster home game, even follow the team on the road, and regularly host post-game gatherings normally attended by the Coaching staff and members of the Marauders. . 

 "I wanted to reach out to them with the hope of maintaining our relationships, and thanking them for all they had done for me while I was a Marauder. " 

While Victor may be wearing different university colours in the future, there is no doubt that a large part of his character was defined at McMaster, and his desire is to remain close to the program.   

"I loved my teammates and some of those guys will be lifelong friends, and I really do wish the best for this team and the program and I will always be a Marauder fan. " 

To use cliched basketball pun, it is a slam dunk that the McMaster Hall of Fame will call Joe Raso's name sooner rather than later and his name will be enshrined with other great luminaries and McMaster citizens.  Three years might not be a big enough body of work to enshrine Victor Raso, despite the quality citizen he was for the program. However, the tantalizing vision of father and son hoisting the CIS Championship together will never be realized like it was for Ken and Scott Murray of Brock back in 2009.

Two indelible, permanent marks on the McMaster, and one family name that was a fixture since 1991  .However, neither Joe or Victor got the closure or exit they desired at the the end of their McMaster tenure.

Steve Clark

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