TORONTO - Banners are plastered around the walls and windows of the Mattamy Athletic Centre that read simply: "Toronto is basketball."
But the city that is home to Canada's lone NBA team and has produced the past two NBA No. 1 draft picks has been missing a key accomplishment on its basketball resume.
That changes this week.
Ryerson University will host the Canadian university men's basketball championships at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, under the original roof of Maple Leaf Garden — marking the first time the tournament has been held in Toronto in its 51 years.
"I just think it's so cool for Toronto," said Ryerson's head coach Roy Rana. "It's so cool for our kids and hopefully we can pack this place and create a great environment, because it's a special level, I don't think people really appreciate how good it is.
"It's our opportunity to showcase it and do it right, here at home, in this building, under the original roof. . . I think that it's nice that the first time ever that it's happened in the city, it'll happen here."
Legendary NCAA basketball coach George Raveling called Toronto "the most productive basketball city in North America."
The member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, travels the globe in his job as the director of international basketball for Nike, and said Canadian basketball is causing a stir worldwide.
"The most consistent question I get from stop to stop is 'Hey, what's going on up in Canada, how are they doing this?' People are intrigued, and people have heard 'Oh, Canada basketball, they're on fire, they've got all these kids going to the States, and playing.'
"But then it was all validated when you guys went back-to-back No. 1 draft picks (in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins), now you've really got people's attention. . .holy god."
Reigning four-time national champion Carleton Ravens are seeded No. 1 for the sixth time in eight years. Windsor is No. 2, followed by Ottawa Gee-Gees at No. 3, Victoria Vikes at No. 4, Dalhousie Tigers (5), Bishop's Gaiters (6), Ryerson Rams (7) and Saskatchewan Huskies (8).
Rana said they'd tossed around the idea of hosting the CIS tournament since he was hired to turn around a fledgling program six years ago.
"I think the concern was, could we build a program that would rightfully be a good host? We didn't want to be in the championship and be a sub-500 team," Rana said. "When we went to nationals three years ago, I think that's when Ivan (Joseph, Ryerson's athletic director) and the university realized, hey this might be something we could go for."
Carleton went 17-2 in the regular season and 3-0 in the conference playoffs, including a narrow four-point victory over Ryerson and then a resounding 103-59 victory over Windsor in the Ontario conference final last weekend.
The tournament will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for this summer's Pan American Games, as the Mattamy Athletic Centre will be the basketball venue for Pan Ams.