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Profile: CIS All-Rookie Point Guard Mike L’Africain talks about his Final 8 experience

Wednesday March 14, 2012

The University of Ottawa's Mike L'Africain was named to the CIS All-Rookie team last week at the CIS awards gala in Halifax, a part of the annual pilgrimage of the country's best university ballers to the big stage - the Final 8 tournament. The Gee-Gees' point guard returned from his stint in the stands at the national tournament with renewed fire, and some new perspectives on his first season with the garnet and grey.

No one could have accused number 11 of lacking passion for the game of basketball, or for a lack of effort to hone his craft. When he first joined the Gee-Gees, two of the most common words used to describe the prized recruit were 'gym rat'. However, on his second day back in Ottawa after taking in the sights and sounds of the national tournament, the passion is flowing out of him.

"It was a great experience, just being there. You talk about it all year but then when you finally get to see it, it's a visual. In my mind, every day, I just remember the crowd, the banquet, the teams there - how much respect every team got for going there."

For the Oakville native, it was the first time attending the CIS championship in person. "You can watch anything you want on TV, it's not the same experience. You don't hear what people are saying, you don't get to walk around and see the venue. It feels like if you go there, you gotta get it done," said L'Africain, trying to convey the intensity he felt among the players.

"In the hotel they had the logos of the teams up, and you're just thinking 'why isn't my team up there?' I put in eight hours today; I'm gonna go nuts - I need to get there. It's not a want anymore it's a need. I've been thinking about it all day."

The amazing thing about L'Africain is that his passion comes through the most when discussing his own need to improve. Asked if the university basketball experience thus far was what he thought it would be, L'Africain pauses for a moment and then chuckles as he admits, "No. I'm confident in myself and just like every other high school kid I thought I was the man. Coming here, the number one thing I learned is that I've got a lot, a lot, to learn. I came here and maybe some of my skills are close to being good, but physically and mentally day in and day out I learned so much that I need to get to another level."

"I'm so happy I chose to come here. It's a perfect situation, sincerely. I met good team mates and they all want to get better. We're going to grow up together and I think our future is bright together," smiles L'Africain when asked about his young team mates who, it must be noted, are the ones in the gym with L'Africain on this night and most others in these early days of the off-season.

It's a time when an outsider might expect them to relax and to take a break from their relentless pursuit of improvement. Instead, they battle each other three-on-three on the Montpetit court as the intramural teams arrive, staying until the last possible moment when they finally must relinquish their spot and hit the showers. Or, they sneak back into the gym at ten o'clock after a women's playoff game has concluded, asking to use the court for a one-on-one session with assistant coach Emil O'Neill until the facility shuts down for the night.

It's this type of team commitment which Mike gives credit for his All-Rookie status. Discussing what the award says about how he stacks up against his fellow freshmen, L'Africain acknowledges, "I don't care when I'm on the court and I'm playing, but after it's a nice thing. It's a small mental thing - it shows hard work pays off in the end because there were guys coming out of high school that were ranked higher than me and I was able to beat them out. It shows me that I made the right choice, coming here and being able to make an immediate impact."

With exam time just around the corner, the communications student smiles broadly when asked about his studies. He confidently affirms with an easy "School's going really good too," that his focus on basketball still allows him to maintain that constant balancing act faced by student-athletes. With all this on his plate, L'Africain still has some time for a bit of fun.

"From a basketball dream standpoint, playing at Scotiabank Place," is chosen as a season highlight for L'Africain, although he quickly noted that playing in front of seven thousand people didn't turn out the way he had dreamed it. However, the morning of the Capital Hoops Classic, as the team wrapped up their shoot around and had the venue largely to themselves, L'Africain lived out another hoopster fantasy.

Re-enacting the classic Bird vs Jordan McDonald's commercial, the speedy guard sprinted up an aisle to hop into a lower-bowl suite. From there, to the jaw-dropping awe of his team mates, he launched a 100-foot football toss which rimmed out, only the tiniest bit wide of its target.  L'African will have another chance to showcase his Globetrotter-inspired skills during the Juno Hoops celebrity basketball game which will take place at Montpetit Hall on March 29.

L'Africain's other season highlight? "Being in a place where everyone is so locked and loaded, every day you're a team. I saw my team mates every day - here everybody's always doing work to get better. It's business, it's fun, and it's hard work. It's a great experience."