• By: OLM Staff

BlackJacks deal familiar look to area basketball fans

The first expansion franchise in the history of the Canadian Elite Basketball League, the Ottawa BlackJacks are preparing to deal themselves into the busy sporting landscape of Canada’s capital city region.

From the NHL Senators to the CFL RedBlacks, pro sports franchises own a solid history on the Ottawa scene. The city’s been rewarded over the years with multiple Stanley Cup and Grey Cup celebrations.

The BlackJacks are among three new pro franchises bringing new leagues and new sports to the area. Atletico Ottawa is set to launch in the Canadian Premier Soccer League. Perhaps even more ambitious, the Ottawa Aces are poised to enter Britain’s League One Rugby.

The CEBL was created in 2017 and began play with six franchises in 2019. Ottawa officially gained the seventh CEBL franchise on Nov. 20th, 2019.

Unlike its pro rival the National Basketball League of Canada, the CEBL requires that teams rely on home-grown talent to populate team rosters. Seven of the 10 players on each team must be Canadian.

Chantal Vallee, coach of the CEBL’s Hamilton Honey Badgers, believes the time has arrived where a Canadian pro league can be dominated by Canadian basketball players.

“We are there now,” Vallee told HoneyBadgers.ca. “We have the luxury to be able to offer this to our basketball players in Canada now.

“There’s so much excitement about the sport in Canada. Hockey is always going to be important of course, but the amount of young men and women that just want to play basketball is growing. A big part of that is the talent that we produce as Canadian coaches in high school, at the grassroots, and at the university level.

“The athletes that we have here that are hard-working and making their path to breaking records, whether it’s at U Sports or in the NCAA. There are coaches like Dave Smart that win championships and create a legacy, and the NBA players that are coming from Canada.”

Smart is serving as general manager of the BlackJacks.

Carleton alumni Philip and Thomas Scrubb both signed with the Ottawa Blackjacks. (Photo from OUASport/twitter.com).

Building From Within
There’s also a rich history of amateur sporting success in Ottawa. The 67s won the Memorial Cup, and the Ottawa Sooners dominated Canadian junior football. At the university level, both the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens have produced U Sport national championship clubs.

Carleton’s men’s basketball team dominates the hardwood. Since 2003, the Ravens have won 15 W. P. McGee Trophies as national university basketball champions.

Naturally, the BlackJacks wisely opted to invest in this championship pedigree while assembling their inaugural squad, starting by naming long-time Carleton coach Smart their GM last December.

For Smart, 13 has proven to be a lucky number. He coached the Ravens to 13 of those national titles, including five in a row from 2003-07. He was named the top Canadian men’s university basketball coach on 13 occasions.

Vallee, herself coach of five straight national U Sports women’s championship clubs with the Windsor Lancers, views Smart as one of those whose work has helped to make the CEBL a realistic possibility.

“The athletes that we have here that are hard-working and making their path to breaking records, whether it’s at U Sports or in the NCAA,” Vallee said. “There are coaches like Dave Smart that win championships and create a legacy, and the NBA players that are coming from Canada.”

Carleton alumni will be well-represented throughout the makeup of the BlackJacks. Head coach Osvaldo Jeanty was a player on those Carleton championship teams. The club has dipped into the talent pool of ex-Ravens to sign brothers Thomas and Philip Scrubb, along with Kaza Kajami-Keane to contracts with the team.

The Scrubbs were key contributors to Carleton’s five straight national title wins. Philip, a Canadian national team player. is the only three-time winner of the most valuable player award for Canadian men’s university basketball. Thomas was twice named the top defensive player in Canadian men’s university basketball.

Ottawa-born and raised guard Johnny Berhanemeskel, arguably the greatest player in Gee-Gees history, was also signed to a pact with the Blackjacks. In 2015, Berhanemeskel was named 2015 OUA Player of the Year and received First Team All-Canadian recognition.

Berhanemeskel also was awarded the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy, presented to the outstanding player in Canadian university men’s basketball. He finished his career as all-time scoring leader in Gee-Gees history.

Guards Yaslin Joseph and Munis Tutu are other former Carleton players signed to the BlackJacks training-camp roster. Ravens guards Lloyd Pandi and Alain Louis and forward Tajinder Lall were all signed to development contracts as per the U Sports agreement with the CEBL. Former Gee-Gees forward Jean Emmanuel is another local talent with the BlackJacks.

“The players signed to the first BlackJacks roster in franchise history represent a group of men who have great pride in the City of Ottawa and will work hard to deliver a championship to our nation’s capital,” Smart told theblackjacks.ca.

When Will The Blackjacks Be Dealing?

The big question facing the CEBL right now is the same one being asked of all major North American sports leagues – when will the COVID-19 outbreak subside to the point where sport is again safe to be played?

Ottawa was originally slated to play its inaugural CEBL game against Hamilton on May 14th but the CEBL remains in shutdown mode due to the coronavirus.

The CEBL is tentatively exploring a season launch sometime in June.

“With the health and safety of our fans, players and staff being our highest priority, we will continue to plan contingencies for a new start date and creative formats that will enable us to play as many games as possible this summer,” CEBL Commissioner Mike Morreale said in a statement.