The Gee-Gees men’s basketball team will be hosting one of the most prestigious and historic NCAA men’s basketball programs on August 19, as the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels pay a visit to Montpetit Hall. The exhibition match will start at 2 p.m. The next day, the Gee-Gees will face another NCAA opponent in the Northeastern Huskies, in an evening matchup that will start at 7 p.m. uOttawa played four exhibition games against NCAA Division I opponents last season, including a nail-biting 72-70 loss against the University of California Santa Barbara Gauchos.
“The competition we’re facing is going to be at the highest level. Playing big programs like UNLV and Northeastern exposes some of your weaknesses, and then we can look at the game and make adjustments for the season,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. “The games are also fun for the players. The kids get to play against some big-time Division I schools, and they have fun seeing how they match up against those guys.”
UNLV is one of the top teams in the Mountain West Conference, which happens to be one of the most competitive conferences in NCAA men’s basketball. The Runnin’ Rebels finished 26-9 last season and earned a six-seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament—UNLV has appeared in the NCAA tournament in five of the past six seasons. This season, the Runnin’ Rebels have recruited Canadian power forward Anthony Bennett, originally from Brampton, Ontario, to their program. Though he is unlikely to play against the Gee-Gees, Bennett should make a big impact on the Rebels this year as he was one of the most sought-after players of the 2012 NCAA recruiting class.
Northeastern, on the other hand, hails from the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the most well-known mid-major conferences in the NCAA. The Huskies finished with a 14-17 record last season, including a 9-9 record against conference opponents. They were perennial NCAA Tournament contenders in the 1980s and their last post-season appearance came in the 2010 National Invitational Tournament.
“When I was in high school, the Runnin’ Rebels were winning championships, led by Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon. From a personal standpoint, it’s pretty amazing that we’re going to have the Runnin’ Rebels in here. It’s going to be special to see the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels at uOttawa, playing against Mike L’Africain and Johnny Berhanemeskel,” said Derouin. “Northeastern has a lot of new players this year, and I’m looking forward to another tough game against a big program and a big school in Northeastern.”
The two exhibition matches also gives the team a chance to showcase its rookies. The Gee-Gees have arguably one of the best recruiting classes in the CIS this year, headlined by centre Matt Nelson (Peterborough, Ont.), power forward Matt Plunkett (Barrie, Ont.), and shooting guards Caleb Agada (Burlington, Ont.) and Moe Ismail (Hamilton, Ont.).
“Nelson has the tools to be a very good player, he has everything that a post player needs. Ismail has shown that he is CIS-ready in terms of shooting the ball—he’s lights out from beyond the arc. Agada is another top wing player, who is a beast on the glass, scores well, and defends well. Plunkett has looked great too and he gives us a lot of flexibility,” said Derouin. “I am extremely excited about this group. It’s one of the Gee-Gees’ best recruiting classes in the past 10 to 15 years.”
Of course, fifth-year swingman Warren Ward (London, Ont.) is another player that Gee-Gees fans want to see in action. After having surgery in March to repair his ACL, Ward is not quite ready to partake in these exhibition games; however, he will be fully ready for action by late September or early October. Without Ward in the lineup, third-year shooting guard Johnny Berhanemeskel (Ottawa, Ont.) and sophomores Mike L’Africain (Oakville, Ont.) and Vikas Gill (Stittsville, Ont.) will shoulder much of the scoring load for these two games.
“The kids have worked extremely hard and they’ve been very dedicated this whole summer— in particular, Mike, Johnny, and Vikas. They’ve added lots of muscle and I’m expecting a lot from the returning core, including Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue, who had an outstanding finish to the season last year,” explained Derouin. “Warren’s rehab has been going spectacular and I think he’s going to be even better than he was before.”
Advance tickets for the two NCAA exhibition matches are available online through Capital Tickets or by phoning the Gee-Gee ticket office at 613-562-5800 extension 4337.