Men’s basketball team beat Carleton Ravens to take OUA championship title
Photos by Winston Chow
For the first time in seven years the Gee-Gees defeated cross-town rival Carleton University and won their first Wilson Cup in 20 years. And no one shined brighter than Johnny Berhanemeskel.
If he hadn’t already, Berhanemeskel cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players ever to don the Gee-Gees jersey for the men’s basketball program. With his game-winning shot at the last second of the game, he solidified a victory for his team.
“That was one of the biggest shots in school history,” said assistant head coach Justin Serresse. “He showed it in his reaction. It feels good after four years of frustration, after losing three close games last year.”
Even though the Ravens dominated their opposition for the better part of the season, this has been a story of two teams: the team with Terry Thomas and the team without him. Thomas has broken school records in his short stay with the team and is one of the biggest contributors to the Gee-Gees’ Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship run. The strides made by sophomore guard Caleb Agada also speak immensely about the team, as well as the great job done by head coach James Derouin and his supporting staff.
“It was a relief, especially considering the way the game went,” Serresse said about becoming a champion. The team showed early on that they were not going to let the moment get to them and the players kept their composure as the game started. This was something they had not done during the previous two meetings against the Carleton Ravens. Even when facing a 10-point deficit in a key moment of the game, the team controlled their nerves and chipped away at the Carleton lead, all of it culminating with Berhanemeskel’s game-winning shot.
Speaking about the game and his heroics, Berhanemeskel said, “It was a great feeling to win. I probably would have been just as happy had it been versus another team, but it ended up being Carleton.”
It is hard to say if this matchup was a battle between the unstoppable force and the immovable object or between David and Goliath; either way, the Gee-Gees left Toronto with an OUA championship title and the top seed heading into the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) final eight. When asked if they felt confident about the team being ranked number one heading into the national tournament, Serresse said, “You just have to be.”
The Gee-Gees’ victory cannot be fully appreciated until it is put into historical perspective. The last time the Gees defeated the Ravens was in 2007. That same year, five players of this year’s Gee-Gees team were still in high school, seven were beginning high school or in junior high, and three of them were in the sixth grade heading into seventh. Hometown hero Berhanemeskel was 15 and couldn’t legally drive a vehicle.
“I was just a hyper kid playing a bunch of sports,” he said.
The last time the Gee-Gees won the Wilson Cup was in 1993, when the Internet was still this new thing. The Dallas Cowboys were the best team in the NFL, the Montreal Canadians won a Stanley Cup and Jurassic Park was on the silver screen. Most of the players on the team were either babies or not even born yet.
The Saturday night game was huge. Despite being the same night the Leafs and Habs faced each other on Hockey Night in Canada, the basketball game managed to become one of the top 10 topics trending on Twitter. News of the victory made its way across the Atlantic as Gee-Gees legend Warren Ward took the time to congratulate the new legend and the team.
“Warren messaged me a little bit after the game congratulating the team,” said Berhanemeskel.
After finally defeating the Ravens, the Gee-Gees will restart the journey. But this time they will face the best teams from across the country during the final eight CIS championship, taking place in the city of Ottawa March 7–9. Carleton University will be hosting.
“There’s no time to celebrate, especially when the top eight teams are coming into the city,” said Berhanemeskel.
Despite the Gee-Gees earning the number-one seed, they’ll have to show that their victory was not just a blip on the radar. For the last two seasons, they’ve grabbed the OUA’s attention, but with a Wilson Cup win over the top-ranked Ravens, they’ve captured the entire country’s attention.
With the Ravens falling to the number-two rank, fans will get a chance to witness a fourth potential showdown between the two Ottawa teams. This time however, it will be more than a ranking, and more than city and provincial bragging rights are on the line. This time, the winner will be the undisputed best team in the country and will walk away with the hardware to prove it.