Ryan Vetrie may not have been born with a basketball in his hands, but anyone familiar with his family knew it was a just a matter of time before he’d be dribbling up and down the court.
Now entering his 11th season as head coach of the women’s basketball team at Algoma University, Vetrie was born to play and coach the sport as he spent the better part of his first 19 years on this planet with one of Canada’s most successful coaches residing in his own backyard.
Born as the only son to Sault native Guy Vetrie, who was one of Canada’s most renowned coaches from 1978 until his sudden passing in 2003 of a heart attack while jogging at the University of Victoria, Ryan is now following in his dad’s footsteps and has been instrumental in helping grow the sport locally.
With his 705 program at AU, which is for elementary-school aged kids and his Thunderbirds rep program for girls in Grades 7-10, he is committed to giving kids a platform to play and improve and to develop a love for the game.
“The 705 program was developed by Ross Viotto, myself and Thomas Cory and we just wanted to give kids a platform to be able to play a bit and have some fun,” Vetrie said. “It was similar to all the small ball stuff that was going around in town and so far it’s been great. We have a lot of kids playing and they’re coached by some of the men and women varsity players at the school and it’s been pretty successful.”
For Vetrie, coaching basketball for a living and developing programs at the grassroots level for kids in the Sault is what he was born to do. His dad was head coach of the men’s team at the University of Victoria for 13 years before succumbing to a tragic heart attack and, before that, coached the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for nine seasons. He won coach of the year honors six times in the Canada West Conference and led the Victoria Vikings to a national title in 1997. Guy was also an assistant coach on Canada’s national team from 1989-91 and coached Canada’s national B team in 1991.
“As much as I can remember from being very young, basketball was my go-to sport,” says Ryan. “I loved it. I played a bunch more sports — soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, track and cross country running — but basketball was always my main sport.”
As a youngster, he would often accompany his dad to practices and was always enamored by his dad’s approach and impressive resume.
“He was my dad,” Ryan said. “Again I respected him and obviously being at the level he was at, anything he told me or tried to teach me, I listened to because it was all being done to help me become a better player.”
Months before his dad’s passing, Ryan was preparing to attend to the University of Victoria and was excited about the prospect of playing for his father. He still finds it difficult to discuss his dad’s passing, saying simply “too much sadness,” but says some of the lessons his dad taught him still resonate with him today.
“One of the big things that I took from him, even when I was player, was to look at things with a much deeper perspective,” Ryan said. “He taught me to stand back a little bit and look at players as a coach and that always hit home. When you play with somebody else, know their abilities, their strengths, stuff like that.”
This past season marked one of the best ever for the lady Thunderbirds, who came within a win or two of qualifying for the OUA playoffs, a huge accomplishment for a small school somewhat isolated in Northern Ontario. They won six games - the most they’ve ever won since entering the OUA in 2013-14 - and Vetrie is hoping they can continue that upward trend.
“I guess you can say I’m just kind of along for the ride right now,” he said. “I’m still trying to learn and see what I can improve on. I think the biggest thing is experience, you know, what not to do, try this, try that.”
As a player, Vetrie played ball for the T-Birds when they played in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association and was a key member of their 2007-08 silver medal winning team and in 2008-09 was named the T-Birds MVP.
After graduating from AU with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, Vetrie began his coaching career with the Sir James Dunn Eagles senior boys team in 2009-10 and then served as an assistant to Cory on the AU men’s squad. He was then named head coach of the women’s team and in just his second season in that position, he guided the lady T-Birds to fifth place in the West Division with a 15-3 record in 2012-13 and a first place finish the following year with a 16-2 mark, earning him coach of the year marks in the OCAA’s West Region.
Now, at the university level, he has his work cut out for him as he’s competing for players with bigger centres in Ottawa, Toronto, London and Windsor. But he hopes the T-Birds program and gradual success will serve as a lure when it comes to recruiting players.
“It has its challenges,” he said about the recruitment process. “We work hard at it but right now due to the circumstances (COVID 19), it’s difficult.”
Asked if he sees any similarities in his coaching style to that of his dad’s, Ryan said that’s a difficult question to answer because the game has changed so much.
“I never got the chance to play for him so that’s a tough question,” he said. “Times have changed and when you fast forward 20 years, strategies are a lot different now. Back in the day, we were all post orientated and nowadays everything has changed with the three points and the way that’s evolved.”
And with that evolution has come change and so far Ryan Vetrie has adapted just fine and is excelling at the sport he was born to be a part of.