Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are shooting for the top this season
The U Sports basketball season is just around the corner.
As always, the University of Ottawa rosters are chalked full of talent, and will be looking to contend for both Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and U Sports championships.
After dominant regular season showings, both the men’s and women’s teams fell in tight OUA East semi-final matchups — absolutely heartbreaking for the Gee-Gees.
The next level
Despite a 19-4 overall record, being ranked third nationally, and having a championship-caliber roster, the U of O men’s basketball team suffered an early exit in the OUA East semi-finals.
A tragic 59-55 loss at the hands of the Queen’s Gaels marked the end of the road for the 2021-22 Gee-Gees squad.
Without the opportunity to play in the national championship tournament, the team has had a lot of time to prepare for the 2022-23 U Sports basketball season.
Time has not gone to waste, as both individual players and the team as a whole have taken steps to hit the next level and avoid another tragic post-season defeat.
Though an important trio of seniors left the team after last season, Gees stars, Guillaume Pepin and Josh Inkumsah spent the summer playing professional basketball in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) for the Ottawa BlackJacks, and are sure to fill the absence of graduating players.
Joining them in representing the BlackJacks was U of O head coach, James Derouin. Derouin’s time as interim head coach for BlackJacks allowed him to work with professional players, and ultimately, his experience in the CEBL will surely influence the way he moves forward in his 12th season leading the Gee-Gees.
Through preseason matchups, we’ve been able to get a sneak peek of what the squad is looking like.
“Based on defence and transition and shooting threes, we’re looking like a more athletic type of team this year,” Pepin explained.
It’s been clear that point guard Dragan Stajic has become more comfortable in his role on the team, while another youngster on the squad, Cole Newton, has been consistently finding the basket after a season under his belt.
Between Newton and Pepin, there is no lack of scoring power for the Gee-Gees.
“If we get to the level we want to be at, there is no reason we won’t win an OUA championship and national championship,” Pepin said.
All the right pieces
Dropping the OUA East semi-final game to crosstown rivals, the Carleton Ravens, was absolutely not how the Gee-Gees wanted to end an otherwise successful, 2021-22 season.
The women’s basketball team has always had star power, but this time around, the depth is undeniable.
Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu is back yet again, and there’s no doubt she will continue building on her long list of accomplishments, including reaching 1000 regular season points and 500 career rebounds last season — not to mention her U Sports acknowledgements.
Not only does she dominate in the post, but Lefebvre-Okankwu has become a reliable shooter around the court.
She isn’t the only shooter for the Gee-Gees. Savannah Provo can be counted on to put down three-pointers no matter the situation, and her contributions get the team and the fans fired up.
At the point, Natsuki Szczokin has been nothing less than reliable, playing the most minutes and putting up the second-most points on the team last season. Szczokin always does her job. If she stays on this upwards trajectory, the team is in a very good place.
It doesn’t end there; Nadine Katumbayi immediately proved herself as a rookie last year, putting up great numbers in the assists, steals, and points categories.
“As a team, our ultimate goal is to win it all,” Katumbayi said. “I think we have a talented team and if we work hard enough we can get there.”
Individually, Katumbayi is a young player on the squad, but she still contributes heavily to the team.
“I just want to play the sport I love, get better, and help the team with the talents and gifts God gave me,” Katumbayi said.
Recently named head coach, Rose-Anne Joly has a lot to work with, and the point is that no matter who you’re watching on this Gee-Gees lineup, they’ll put on a great display of athleticism and talent.
Warning: these could be hot takes.
Truthfully, I’ve seen a number of incredibly talented U of O basketball teams in the past five years. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of these teams reach the championship game, and I’ve had my own heart broken by early playoff exits.
So, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubt.
That said, I’ve witnessed some incredible moments. Regular season comebacks, unbelievable plays, wild Capital Hoops Classic wins, and I’ve definitely admired these teams, especially as they’ve grown into what they are now.
It’s safe to say that both teams will have winning regular season records, and I imagine both with spend the year in the U Sports top 10. I have complete faith that they will make it to the OUA East finals this year — whether or not they win still feels up in the air.
As a too-early championship prediction, I have a feeling the women’s team is going to make a huge run, and I genuinely could see this version of the Gee-Gees bringing home a championship title.
As for the men, I think it’ll be a tougher path due to the loss of key players. I won’t say it’s impossible, but when stepping back and looking at other teams in the league, it’s hard to imagine the current team dethroning the likes of the Ravens or Gaels.
I’d love to see them prove me wrong.
The season tips off on Nov. 4 in Montpetit Hall, where the teams welcome McMaster at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. respectively.
Do yourself a favour and cheer on the Gee-Gees, because it’s going to be one hell of a season.