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Team visits South Korea, welcomes American competition at home

Photo: Richard A. Whittaker

After a heartbreaking second consecutive loss in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship last spring, the Gee-Gees men’s basketball team is reshaping and ready to make another push at the title.

The Gees accepted an invitation to represent Canada at the 2015 Asia-Pacific University Basketball Challenge in Seoul, South Korea in late June. The team took on national teams in preparation for the Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea.

They only posted a 1-3 record due to the fierce competition, closing the tournament with a 83-70 victory over Korea’s B Team.The games were also a final send-off for forward Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue, who was able to rejoin the team after graduation to anchor the paint and provide much needed veteran leadership without the likes of Johnny Berhanemeskel and Caleb Agada. Both players had been selected to play on the Canadian national team

Although the team struggled in the tournament, they were able to start building their own identity through establishing communication and discovering roles for the upcoming season.

“Korea was huge,” said third-year forward Matt Plunkett. “It was a really good team trip and the competition was really good as well. It was a great experience to be out there in a new country with just us playing national teams, we really took a lot from it.”

First practice in Korea done. 1988 Olympic gym. Was hot but still amazing. Game #1 vs Japan tomorrow. #Geegees

A photo posted by U of Ottawa Men’s Basketball (@geegees_basketball) on

From a coaching perspective, the team bonding was very important but the product on the floor shows the true development.

“The first three games we really struggled,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. “We were a little fat on our success and the guys hadn’t really put in the time so when we came back the guys were really focused. They’ve been putting in the work and the training… it was an eye opener and we’re further ahead because of it.”

Upon returning from Korea, Caleb Agada, the team’s biggest star returned from his stint with the Canadian national team. The Gees began practicing again as a group, preparing for more high-level competition.

Gee-Gees make light work of first NCAA opponent

As per tradition the Gee-Gees also schedule exhibition games against American teams in the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA) Division I over the summer. Typically there’s a mix of national heavyweights and smaller programs, giving the Gee-Gees a chance to gauge themselves against some of the best collegiate players in the world.

This year the Gee-Gees have three games that will feature NCAA Divison I teams, the first of which was played on Aug. 2 against the Murray State Racers of Murray, Kentucky.

Murray State was last year’s Ohio Valley Conference champion and made an appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2012. The Gee-Gees proved that the hard work they’ve been putting in has paid off as they trampled the Racers by a score of 81-57.

The Gees showed that nothing has changed in their reputation as a team that will live and die by the three, as they attempted 42 in the game, scoring 17. The Racers couldn’t get their shots to fall in the early goings, which is the last thing a team wants to do against the Gees. A second half barrage of threes and effective defence buried the Racers for good.

Caleb Agada opened his campaign for CIS Player of the Year with a stunning 23-point, 10-rebound, and eight assist performance. Matt Plunkett added 20-points and 7-rebounds, while Mike L’Africain netted 16 despite an injury scare midway through the game.

“I’m very happy with what I saw,” said Derouin. “The veterans of the group have been here before and they played like it today.”

Plunkett’s growth embodies dedication and perseverance

The further development of Matt Plunkett was clear in the game, as his transition from being the last player on the bench two years ago to a starter playing 35 minutes as he continues his transition.

“He works his ass off and deserves his success. Any time a kid can turn around from barely playing to becoming big time contributor it’s rare and not easy to do,” said Derouin. “Am I surprised with a kid like Matt Plunkett? No. It just shows you how great of a kid Plunkett is. I trust him out there and he knows it.”

Plunkett credits the Gee-Gees development system and hard work for his success. Maybe it’s just modesty but it is something he deeply believes in.

“Ever since I’ve been here we stay all summer, we train all summer so I guess it’s finally starting to pay off,” said Plunkett. “We knew that with Johnny (Berhanemeskel) leaving that there’d be a big load to fill. It’s a testament that everyone can do this and develop, it’s just the way this program goes.”

Plunkett and the Gee-Gees will welcome two more NCAA teams later this month, the Baylor Bears and Valparaiso Crusaders on Aug. 13 and 14. A possible game against Texas Tech could also be added as the Red Raiders are in Ottawa to take on Carleton on Aug. 19.