When discussing U SPORTS men’s basketball over the past decade, there is no denying that one most certainly talks about the Carleton Ravens. More specifically, legendary coach turned director of basketball operations Dave Smart, the club’s numerous W. P. McGee Trophies, and the countless Ravens greats – none bigger or more impactful than brothers Phil and Tommy Scrubb.
From 2010-15, the two were mainstays on the Ravens. In their five years together in the nation's capital, the duo found immense success, both individually and together as part of Smart’s teams.
Since going out on top and leading the Ravens to the 2015 U SPORTS title – their fifth straight national gold medal – Phil and Tommy have continued to build their legacies and make Ravens fans proud.
First they excelled as professionals in Europe. Now, the duo is set to reunite five years later as teammates once again for the expansion Ottawa BlackJacks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), which tips off its second season on Saturday with the CEBL Summer Series at the Meridian Centre St. Catharines, Ont.
Growing up, Phil and Tommy Scrubb did everything together. Whether it was sharing a childhood room at their home in Richmond, B.C., playing on the same youth basketball team, or being on the same team when playing with their parents in a game of two-on-two, the brothers were always together, forming a strong bond in the process.
After sharing the court at Vancouver College, Tommy, who is a year older than his brother Phil, decided to attend Carleton University and play for the Ravens. A year later, Phil, after seeing how much his brother had improved over the year, decided to move across the country and become a Raven as well.
“When I was in Grade 12, Tommy came back at Christmas time and I realized how much better he had gotten,” says Phil. “At that point, I still wanted to go Division I, but then during the year Coach Smart came to meet with me and I realized it was the best place for me to grow as a player.”
Over the course of the next five years, the brothers built impressive resumes. Phil captured the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award as U SPORTS Male Athlete of the Year in 2014, was twice named the winner of the Jack Donohue Trophy as U SPORTS Final 8 MVP (2012, 2015), and earned the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy as Player of the Year three straight years (2012-14). Tommy, on the other hand, was named the 2013 Final 8 MVP, and was awarded Defensive Player of the Year honours in back-to-back seasons (2014, 2015).
With their U SPORTS trophy cabinets full, the brothers made the jump to professional basketball following their time at Carleton. Tommy, a forward, began his career in Finland with Kataja, while the younger Scrubb headed to Greece and suited up for AEK Athens.
Five years after first travelling across the Atlantic, the Scrubb brothers have made their mark on the pro game, suiting up for nine different teams in seven countries before returning home to play in the CEBL this Summer.
Phil recently completed his fourth season in the Liga ACB, the top league in Spain, with Movistar Estudiantes.
Prior to suiting up in one of Europe’s best professional leagues, the younger Scrubb brother, in addition to Greece, spent time in Germany and Russia, finding success in the process.
As a member of the Fraport Skyliners of the top German league, Phil captured the FIBA European Cup title in 2016 and after sitting out the entire next season with a knee injury, returned to the Skyliners for the 2017-18 campaign. That year, his offensive talents were on full display as he led the league in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game, en route to being named the league's top offensive player.
“Particularly that season was special,” says Phil. “I had missed the whole previous year because I had knee surgery. It was a long process for rehab so coming back and playing well was pretty great.”
A whole 1,600 km away, newly-married Tommy Scrubb had been living in France with his wife and fellow former Raven Catherine Traer, playing for Strasbourg in France’s top division while Traer was playing in Luxembourg.
Like his brother and a majority of players playing professionally in Europe, Tommy has lived and played in additional countries besides Finland and France, including Italy and Germany. Although many may assume constantly moving from country to country is difficult, for a professional like Tommy, it wasn’t.
“It’s easy to adjust when you just focus on why you’re there which is basketball,” says Tommy, who has not worried about living in new countries or adjusting to new players and coaches. “I just try to work hard every day and improve through the season.”
While the brothers have remained close over the years, keeping an eye on each other’s careers and spending time training together in the summer at Carleton, the pair never got the chance to play on the same team in Europe. The closest they came was the 2016-17 campaign – the year Phil was out rehabbing his knee in Germany – when Tommy played for the league’s Gießen franchise.
“I (would have) loved to play with Tommy,” says Phil. “But out (in Europe) it’s tough to get on the same team because each team is only allowed a certain number of imports.”
Despite not being able to play with one another overseas, Phil and Tommy have reunited on the court a few times with Canada’s senior men’s team.
Over the last number of years, the Scrubb brother have made a name for themselves by always answering the call and playing important minutes for their country. In 2016, the duo helped Canada claim silver at an Olympic qualifier in the Philippines and in 2017, were key contributors to Canada’s gold medal in the 2017 Americas World Cup qualifier.
“A lot of people have done so much to get me to this point. Guys like Dave Smart and Jay Triano gave me an opportunity with the national team initially,” says Phil Scrubb. “It took me a few years to get comfortable with the team and solidify my place. I think I owe it to them to play every chance I get and so I want to honour their help.”
Last summer, the pair proudly wore the Maple Leaf at the FIBA World Cup in China, as Canada looked to qualify for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It is believed they are the first siblings to play at a World Championship or Olympic event in 50 years.
Fittingly then, it is Smart – who mentored both Phil and Tommy at Carleton, and watched them blossom into national team figures as an assistant coach with Team Canada himself – that has finally brought the Scrubb brothers back together, in his role as the BlackJacks’ inaugural general manager.
“Since we haven’t been able to play together as professionals in the last five years, it’s always fun to be together for a week or for a couple of weeks while playing for our country,” says Tommy. “It’s just like being back at school. Every game is a good opportunity to play together and have a good time. On the national team we might not have as big as a roll as we would here on this Blackjacks team, so it’ll be good to experience something similar to our experience at Carleton.”
Matt is a Radio & Television Arts: Sport Media graduate from Ryerson University. His experience includes a wide variety of sports reporting for The Eyeopener, Ryerson’s campus newspaper, for several online outlets and with the Canadian Olympic Committee.