By Mike Foster
The roar of the crowds, the swish of the net, the squeak of sneakers; one of the biggest events in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic, takes place on Friday, February 5.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Capital Hoops Classic, which features a double-header: both men’s and women’s University of Ottawa basketball Gee-Gees teams will take on the Carleton Ravens at the Canadian Tire Centre. Attendance last year broke CIS basketball attendance records when 10,780 fans turned up to watch the action.
The Gazette caught up with key players to get the scoop on their game plan.
The men’s basketball Gee-Gees are now ranked number 2 in Canada but for six out of eight weeks of the current season were ranked number 1. The women’s Gee-Gees are first place in the OUA North Division standings.
Point guard Mike L’Africain sank the game-winning basket at a knife-edge game against the Carleton Ravens which ended 75-73 on January 16, 2016. L’Africain, now in his fifth season with the Gee-Gees, racked up 17 points in that game.
Fifth-year communications student L’Africain from Oakville, Ontario was named to the national CIS All-Rookie team in his first year with the Gee-Gees in 2011-2012. He is known as a passing player, feeding the ball to team-mates like Caleb Agada, but he’s also a very good scorer himself, with an average of 16.4 points per game this season.
“The game plan and approach for us is the same as always. We want to win and we want to get better,” said L’Africain. “Our approach is defensive, but our guys have to be mentally prepared to make and take some challenged shots.”
It is fair to say that L’Africain is having an amazing season.
“The coach and the guys trust me and that faith just puts me in a good position to be myself,” he said. “My strength is my will to win and I’m good at getting guys to play their best and hardest.”
He used to play with former Gee-Gees Warren Ward and Johnny Berhanemeskel, too. And like them, he hopes to play professional basketball in Europe at the end of this season.
For the women’s Gee-Gees, shooting guard Kellie Forand says there is always a rivalry when it comes to the Ravens. It will be her third time playing in the Capital Hoops. Last year, the women’s Gee-Gees won.
“They are our cross-town rivals. This match-up is really great. We get to play in front of all our friends and family. It is a really great atmosphere,” said Forand.
Communications student Forand, who was awarded the 2014-15 uOttawa President’s Award for excellence in athletics, academics and community service, is more of a defensive player but averages around seven points per game.
“I bring some leadership and communication on the floor, which is especially key at Capital Hoops because with the crowd it is tough to communicate on the court,” said Forand. “Keeping it simple and focusing is always tough because there is so much stress. We’re always frantic when we play (Capital Hoops), so managing that will be key for me and my team.”