The Gee-Gees men’s basketball season can be described with three P’s: pain, progress, and perseverance.
The team that took to the floor on March 9 was head and shoulders above the one that began the season back in autumn. At the beginning of the season, these young men believed they could do it. By the time the final game arrived, they knew. They knew they could defeat their rivals and the most dominant team in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s basketball over the last decade, the Carleton Ravens.
And although they very well could have, the University of Ottawa’s team, under the leadership of head coach James Derouin, did not rest on their laurels after defeating the Ravens in the Wilson Cup final and obtaining the number one ranking in the country, instead working their way forward to meet the Ravens again in the national championship final.
Despite two blowout losses versus Carleton earlier this year at the Ravens’ Nest and at Capital Hoops, the Gee-Gees gave the Ravens everything they could handle in the championship game. But unfortunately for Ottawa, the Ravens walked away with another national title — their 10th, to be exact. The Gee-Gees finished where they had been for most of the season, second only to Carleton.
Although the garnet and grey are still looking for a national title, the team has come a long way from winning the bronze medal at the CIS finals last year and is in a good position to finally get over the hump next year.
Much of this year’s success can be attributed to shooting sensation Johnny Berhanemeskel. The Ottawa native elevated his game after the departure of Gee-Gees icon Warren Ward, averaging 20.5 points per game and breaking University of Ottawa records on his way to being named to the second CIS all-Canadian team.
Transfer player Terry Thomas missed most of the first half of the season, but he had a monster second half. Mike L’Africain solidified his position as one of the most dependable point guards in the country. Sophomore guard Caleb Agada improved in great strides as he averaged 13.5 points per game and led the CIS in steals. At his current pace, it’s unlikely Agada won’t be named or at least considered for an all-Canadian honour next season.
This year’s team played at such a high level that even when they had bad games, they managed to blow out some of their opponents. Heading into the tournament, Derouin’s squad had the number one ranked scoring offence in Canada and the number two scoring defense. The two times the Gee-Gees fell to Carleton in the regular season, they responded with significant victories the following matchup. After their defeat at Capital Hoops, the Gees dominated the rest of their OUA opponents and then advanced to the Wilson Cup game after a gritty battle with Ryerson. They finally defeated the Ravens in the provincial final to win the Wilson Cup.
The team grew with each win, and it was obvious even to the casual observer that the players had heart and meshed well together. Their dance routine during the players’ introduction was a prime example. Whether it was L’Africain stealthily making his way into the huddle before he was announced, Berhanemeskel tapping the hands of all his teammates, or Agada and Thomas sliding and grooving their way down to be greeted by their teammate Moe Ismail down the Gee-Gees line, the team was winning and having fun while doing it.
Though it might take some time to move on from their defeat in the finals, the Gees will surely look back fondly on the 2013–14 season. Carleton may have gotten the best of this team during the regular season, but the garnet and grey showed they were capable of beating them. They now have the Wilson Cup as physical proof. And even though they did not walk away with a national title this year, the Gee-Gees showed their rivals two things: the Wilson Cup win was no fluke, and the team is here to stay. Look out, Canada — the Gee-Gees are coming.
Photo by Marc Jan