Gee-Gees fifth-year centre Bess Lennox of the women’s basketball team calls Ottawa her hometown. After a highly successful four-year CIS career with the University of Western Ontario Mustangs and a two-year stint playing in the State Basketball League, the second-best women’s basketball league in Australia, Lennox has finally returned to the Canadian capital. As a member of the Garnet and Grey, Lennox has made an immediate impact on the team, averaging 7.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season; she is currently the second-highest rebounder in the CIS after leading that category for much of the season.
“As much as I enjoyed being overseas, I love playing basketball at home, especially in the CIS, because it’s a more team-oriented game. When you go overseas, people are looking to score a bunch of points for themselves so they can get on a better team, or get re-signed for the following season,” said Lennox on her return to CIS basketball. “And there aren’t as many team concepts on offence and defence, so that’s something I’ve enjoyed, coming back to Canada—that team aspect.”
Lennox first started to play basketball here in Ottawa, while attending middle school. She then played under current Gee-Gees head coach Andy Sparks at Ashbury College during her high school years. Though the master’s student was not initially planning on playing CIS basketball upon her return from Australia, the prospect of playing under Sparks, one last time, was impossible to turn down.
“I’ve been away from home for a long time. Coming back home and being near my family was something that was attractive to me,” said Lennox. “Coach Sparks is here and he was my high school coach. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach, and I know what a wonderful job he does, so that was what attracted me to the basketball team here.”
Though she is happy to be back in the city where she got her start in basketball, Lennox explained that her experience in Australia, playing for the Southwest Slammers, is one that she’ll never forget.
“I had a great opportunity to play two seasons in Australia and I loved it. I was unfortunately there for their winter for the most part, so it was kind of rainy and not that nice weather-wise, but basketball-wise, I had a really nice coach and my teammates were really accepting right from the get go. Also, the level of basketball was fairly high over there, so I was able to learn a lot, while having a good time.”
Lennox has been one of the most prolific rebounders in Canadian university women’s basketball history, and she is on pace to break the all-time OUA career record for rebounds later this month. Lennox is currently in second place on the Ontario all-time list with 937 rebounds, just behind Cassandra Carpenter and her 986 boards. Carpenter, a Kanata, Ont. native, played for Laurentian from 2003-08.
“To be able to get a rebound, everybody else has to be doing their job as well. Everybody needs to box out so that one person can go and get that rebound and I’ve been fortunate that way. It has to be a team effort,” said Lennox about the art of rebounding. “I’ve never been a great scorer or a really skilled ball handler, so I feel that one way I can contribute to a team is to work hard, and to get after rebounds and hustle plays.”
Now in her final year of CIS eligibility, the six-foot-one centre has a goal beyond breaking the all-time OUA rebounding record. Despite all of her success, Lennox has never reached the CIS nationals stage before in her career. With Hannah Sunley-Paisley (Toronto, Ont.), Jenna Gilbert (Ottawa, Ont.), and Lennox forming a formidable frontcourt, the nationally seventh-ranked Gee-Gees certainly have a great shot to advance to the CIS finals in 2012.
“I’ve never been to the nationals with a team and I’ve always envied players that have had the opportunity to go. On this team, Hannah has gone to nationals before, so she knows what the experience is like. She’s really hoping to get back there and I’m hoping to get there too. And to be able to compete once we get there, I honestly think that we have a team to be able to do that. We could be great, and I really hope that we are able to reach our potential.”
To see Lennox in action as the Gee-Gees prepare themselves for a deep postseason run, come out to the Scotiabank Place on January 18 for the Capital Hoops Classic against the rival Carleton Ravens. Tickets start at just $15 (transportation included) for students!
The University of Ottawa will also be hosting the 2012 CIS East Regional Tournament, the final step before the national championship tournament, from March 9-10.