CIS Final 8 Team Profile: Ottawa Gee-Gees
Overall record: 29-2
National Titles: 0
Appearances: 9 – 1974, 1975, 1984, 1993, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2014
- Bishops (80-66)
- Ryerson Rams (93-64)
- Dalhousie (83-62)
- Carleton Ravens (68-66)
- Windsor Lancers (81-70)
- Ryerson (79-66)
- Carleton Ravens (79-66)
- Windsor (85-80)
OTTAWA, ON—The Disney version of the Ottawa Gee-Gees’ 2015 regular season would have been similar to Cinderella, only if Cinderella took a tumble down the flight of stairs as she left the big ball before midnight.
But of course, the Gee-Gees aren’t Cinderellas. The CIS had ranked the team at No. 2 after the pre-season, and that’s where Ottawa stayed throughout the 2014-2015 campaign…except for a four-week stint at No. 1 after beating the cross-town Carleton Ravens on Jan. 10.
In many ways, this is the best Ottawa Gee-Gees team in the history of the program. Built on the inside prowess of Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue, the slashing and shot-making of Johnny Berhanemeskel and a bevy of shooters, Ottawa outscored every other CIS team and finished as a not-too-shabby No. 7 in defense.
So no, not exactly Cinderella.
And yet, the party just about came to a stunning halt when Ottawa suffered only its second loss of the season at the worst possible time, in the Wilson Cup semifinal against the Windsor Lancers. “We will use it as a wake-up call,” Berhanemeskel tells NPH. “Windsor exposed us on some things and played a good game.”
All of which is to say that the Ottawa Gee-Gees, whose tickets for the 2015 Arcelormittal Dofasco CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8 seemed a formality all season long, had to rely on a wild-card entry this time. They were invited to their third straight Final 8, but took the long route to get there. “It’s not the way we expected, but all that matters is getting there at the end of the day, right?” says Michael L’Africain. “We had one slip-up and the CIS came through for us.”
If the national governing body of university sport did, it’s because the Gee-Gees came through on just about every other game of the season—“in case something bad ever happens,” says L’Africain. You know, something like a loss that could have compromised everything.
This season, Ottawa followed Berhanemeskel’s lead, its happy, go-lucky and cold-blooded assassin of a shooting guard. The fifth-year senior finished the season as a worthy OUA player of the year, ranking ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in points per game—though his per-40-minute average of almost 31 points suggests he was the CIS’s best scorer.
Not bad for a former walk-on, right?
L’Africain praises Berhanemeskel and fellow graduating senior Gonthier-Dubue for what they represent to the Gee-Gees program. “They’ve answered every doubt that anyone’s ever had,” he says. “Every story you hear about a great player bringing hard work and leadership, they’ve done that and more.”
Both represent the bridge between the previous era of Gee-Gees basketball, with Josh Gibson-Bascombe and Warren Ward (and even Terry Thomas), and whatever will come next.
But Ottawa doesn’t look ahead, because this 2014-2015 season still has potentially plenty of basketball left. It all starts on March 12 against the RSEQ champions Bishop’s Gaiters, a team that is possibly peaking at just the right time after an 8-8 season. “They’re another good, strong rebounding team,” L’Africain says. “They’re going to be an interesting test and will help us improve our weaknesses.”
L’Africain says that the Gee-Gees will not take their opponents lightly, as Bishop’s does many things that directly attack focus on Ottawa weaknesses: “keeping guys out of foul trouble and keeping guys off the glass,” L’Africain says.
Should Ottawa emerge victorious, either Windsor or their old friends from Ryerson will await. “We’ve been blessed with another opportunity,” Berhanemeskel says, “now it’s up to us.”
Neither Berhanemeskel nor L’Africain explain that they have had time to reflect on the regular season—if you stop and allow yourself to reflect, then maybe you’re not focused on the task at hand. The point guard explains that, “We only care about one thing.”
That’s because this Gee-Gees team has seen it all in its time together, from losing in the OUA quarterfinals in 2011-2012 to making the CIS Final 8 in each of the previous three seasons.
L’Africain points out that Ottawa has amassed a good number of medals over the years—an OUA gold (in 2013-2014), silver (in 2012-2013) and bronze (in 2014-2015) as well as a CIS silver (in 2013-2014) and bronze (in 2012-2013). The fourth-year point guard says that, “There’s only one thing left to do and that’s the only way we’d be able to be proud of our season.”
Berhanemeskel would call winning a CIS gold a “storybook ending.”
Better than Cinderella, even.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG & NPH @Northpolehoops