Three wins at Jack Donohue Tournament helps team gel before season starts
For the Gee-Gees men’s basketball team, preseason exhibition action is an essential team-building exercise.
“The whole weekend was good,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin after the win over McGill on Sunday, Oct. 30. “Friday night, both sides were clicking. Saturday night our offence struggled at times against their pressure defence, but our defence really kept us in the game. Tonight, I think our defence was firing on all cylinders.”
The weekend was the first time the team had their entire lineup to work with. The team features four new starters from a year ago, with star fifth-year guard Caleb Agada being the lone returner in the starting lineup.
These aren’t the only notable changes to the team. Point guard Mike L’Africain is now playing professionally in Spain, Vikas Gill is now on the team’s coaching staff as an assistant, and Mehdi Tihani and Nathan McCarthy have moved on from basketball.
But this year’s new lineup still has plenty of firepower to match last season’s team. Former McMaster point guard and longtime friend of L’Africain, Adam Presutti joins the team to fill the team’s need at the point for his fifth and final year.
Former national champion with the Carleton Ravens, Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles provides elite size and athleticism on both ends of the floor at the power forward spot.
Meanwhile, forwards Brody Maracle and Matt Plunkett shift into the starting lineup, something that is not particularly unusual for either player as they’ve been accustomed to significant playing time off the bench.
The team’s lineup clicked with a 89–56 win over Bishop’s in the first game of the tournament on Friday, Oct. 28. Presutti impressed immediately with 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists in his first game in garnet and grey.
After a tough win over Concordia on Saturday, the team’s tilt with McGill was the game circled on the calendar.
The Redmen downed the Gee-Gees in the same game last year. However this time it was all Ottawa in the 73–43 win.
Agada was named tournament MVP, and Presutti was an all-star. Unfortunately Pierre-Charles was left off of the all-star list, despite having a fantastic weekend.
The Gees’ bench played a large role in the team’s final win, but third-years Brandon Robinson and Mackenzie Morrison were particularly instrumental in helping propel the team to victory.
“They were ready to play and make things happen when they get on the floor,” Derouin said of the team’s bench effort.
“Adam is good, Caleb is good, Jean is good. They’re always going to be consistent, but for us to win this year and get to where we need to go, we need to have nine, ten, eleven guys contribute.”
It’s players like Robinson that will represent a lot for the team this season—if he can take a his game to another level, the team will benefit greatly.
From a mindset perspective, he is prepared to start taking steps to fall into the same mold as his mentors, former players Johnny Berhanemeskel and L’Africain, as well as Agada.
Another transition that’s key in a third-year player is shifting from a newcomer to a veteran.
“Now I’m on the bench watching the young guys in the last couple of minutes,” said Robinson. “It shows you where you came from and it keeps you humble, you can’t forget where you started. You have to keep working, working, working and never get complacent.”
The Gee-Gees enter the year as the fifth-ranked team in the nation, their lowest national standing since February 2013. Despite this, it may work to the team’s benefit to be underrated as the season begins.
In past years, the Gee-Gees blitzkrieged out of the gate and fizzled to a finish at the national tournament. This year it will take time for their new roster to mesh on the court, something that Agada says they don’t have to worry about behind the scenes.
“Yeah, it’s a different type of basketball, and new faces, but we’re still a family orientated team. We still have each other’s backs and it shows on the court.”
The Gee-Gees will open their season on the road at Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie on Nov. 19. Their first home game takes place at Montpetit Hall on Dec. 2 against fourth-ranked McMaster.