One possession and a buzzer-beating jumper were what seperated uOttawa Gee-Gees from last season's CIS Nationals in coach James Derouin's rookie season as Head Coach. Lakehead's Venzal Russell's baseline jumper at the Wilson Cup Final 4 last season broke the Gee-Gees hearts, a second consecutive Nationals-qualifying loss to the Thunderwolves that Ottawa hopes to erase this season. With a solid eight man rotation and one of the top defensive teams in the country, the Gee-Gees remain on the brink. But consistency finishing games off and an achilles heel at the free throw line need to be addressed before Ottawa gets back to Halifax in March.
Gee-Gees feature guy remains 6'6" Warren Ward (31.3 mpg; 21.0 ppg 7.0 rpg; 66/134 49.3 2%; 38.7 3% ), now in his fourth season and fresh off a strong performance for Canada at the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in October. Ward remains one of the toughest defensive matchups in the CIS with his range beyond the three point line and ability to slash to the rim. When right, Ward can dominate a game on the glass and offensively. Shot selection and ability to defend, especially off the ball, are improving areas of Ward's game that when completed consistently and with energy, can propel the Gee-Gees to play with any team on any night. His role as a leader is key and as Derouin puts it "this is his year to put it all together and make it an All-Canadian season".
Better free throw shooting could have easily pushed the Gee-Gees 4-4 first half OUA record to as high as 7-1: witness losses at McMaster (missed 16 ft. and lost by 3), at Brock (missed 9 ft and lost by 3) and home to Laurier (missed 8 and lost by 2). Derouin has always emphasized defense and Ottawa statistically is in the Top 5 in the CIS in defense so it is scoring the basketball consistently that remains somewhat elusive. To that end, toward the latter stages of November, the Gee-Gees were "trying to play faster and push ball more" as Derouin describes. This has played into the hands of prized 6'1" point guard freshman Mike L'Africain (29.8 mpg 54.0 fg% 11.3 ppg 3.0 rpg assist to turnover nearing 2:1), who had a tough start to his OUA league career with games at Mac and Brock. But over his last 4 games, L'Africain has averaged over 6 assists per game and not coincidentally the Gee-Gees are running much more, letting him use his natural abilities to attack the rim. A bigger point guard by CIS standards, L'Africain can also shoot over more favorable size matchups and his progress puts him on track to be an All-OUA guard before all is said and done.
6'3" Johnny Berhanemeskel (32.1 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 40.9% 3's), part of last season's OUA East freshman class that may have been the greatest in recent memory with two Pan-Am team members (Carleton's Phil Scrubb and Ryerson's Jamahl Jones) plus the slick-shooting Orleans native who himself made a strong case to win the award, remains a vital defensive-stretching two man in Ottawa's lineup. Berhanemeskel has grown to 6'3" and as a sophomore is learning to deal with getting other team's better defenders after somewhat-snearking up on team's last year. Despite the extra attention and opponent preparation, his numbers are still good and efficient. He also gets on the glass and with his long wing-span as a defender is tough to shoot over.
For the most part, Ottawa's front court, after losing conference All-Star 6'9" Louis Gauthier, is relatively unproven offensively. 6'9" 255 pound fourth-year center Jordan Vig (12.8 mpg) steps into a starting role and does much of the work not immediately recognized in the box scores using his muscle to set good screens, rebound and protect the paint. Vig however does not present opponents with a credible offensive threat that could expect to draw double downs. Someone who one day may do so is 6'6" Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue (23.3 mpg 54.6 fg% 8.6 ppg 4.9 rpg). The very athletic 4/5 man has made a monumental leap from single-digit minutes with small flashes of potential as a freshman to a solid, rotation-ready paint area talent. Gonthier-Dubue, as Derouin puts it "made the biggest jump from out of control athlete to one of better young paint-area players in the conference", playing the 4 or 5 spot and starting to assert himself as a scorer in the blocks. Now on a track to push for All-star status further into his career, Gonthier-Dubue's progress as a double-down creating scorer will help dictate how much more room Ottawa's perimeter scorers Ward, Berhameskel, L'Africain et al will get from opponents.
After a redshirt season and his official freshman year last season, 6'4" Christopher Anderson (14.9 mpg, 4.4 ppg) has shown signs of becoming dominant defensively with what Derouin describes as an "strong NFL body". Anderson is comfortable in transition and as he plays to his strengths (running, getting on the glass, defending) he continues to grow into a top of rotation player. 6'10" Seamus Ferguson (8.1 mpg, 56.5 fg%, 4.1 ppg/ 1.9 rpg), who took the Juco and NCAA route after graduating from high school in the GTA, is getting back into playing full-time, learning to focus and use his "raw freakish athleticism" as his coach puts it. Ferguson simply hasn't played alot since high school although has used up 2 years of eligibility but toward end of first half Ferguson started getting more mentally and physically comfortable and learning the nuances of playing at the CIS level.
Veteran 6'2" backup combo guard Jacob Gibson-Bascombe (4th yr, 19.4 mpg, 5.0 ppg), has been a mature, veteran presence who's leadership and selfless attitude Derouin has bee very happy with. Gibson-Bascombe has actually played 4 positions on the floor and projects a positive approach to preparation that has been a guide to Ottawa's young players. One such young player is 6' 7 1/2" Vikas Gill (17.3 mpg, 6.0 ppg), a true freshman who just turned 18 years old, while getting off to a great start shooting the ball and learning to adjust as teams start to take that away. Gill, who is very comfortable handling on the perimeter and can be a lights out shooter when open, is a graduate of the Ottawa Guardsmen club program, so his basketball IQ, especially on the defensive end is exceptional, allowing him to earn time that most freshman usually don't get. Gill may have hit a bit of the proverbial freshman wall toward the end of the first half but as he gets stronger and more confident will be able to add low post offense to his game and entrench himself as a top-of-rotation guy.
Injuries have once again curtailed the debut of touted 6'2" scoring guard lefty Serge Grenon, who will miss the remainder of this season with a torn ACL and torn miniscus suffered in a mid-October exhibition game vs. San Juantina, an NCAA Division III team. Grenon has been described by some as a CIS Manu Ginobli-type as a gifted offensive player who know how to use his body getting to the rim (and subsequently the foul line). With only 3 games played this season, Grenon hopes to be granted a medical redshirt year to save a season of eligibility.
Ottawa has an opportunity to jump start their second half with their feature matchup on Day One at the Shoveller vs. St. FX.