Toronto, ON- The CEBL’s annual U SPORTS Draft took place on Wednesday afternoon, with 21 players being selected ahead of the league’s third season. The snake draft’s order was determined based on the reverse standings from the 2020 Summer Series, meaning that the last-place Saskatchewan Rattlers had the first overall pick and used it on fourth-year guard Nervens Demosthene out of Bishop’s — the lone player selected out of the RSEQ. The OUA unsurprisingly led the way with 11 selections, followed by six players out of Canada West, and three from the AUS.
Now that the results are in, I thought I’d take a look at the biggest steal of each round and how they may impact their new team. For a full draft recap, click HERE.
Steal of Round #1: Ali Sow (Pick #4 — Ottawa Blackjacks via Laurier Golden Hawks)
Despite being selected fourth overall, I still consider Ali Sow to be a steal. Sow had an extremely strong rookie season for Laurier in 2017-18, being named to the All-Rookie team behind 16.5 points per game, but took a huge leap the following season where he put up 26.6 points per game and was named an OUA First Team All-Star.
If it weren’t for the fact that he’s played at the same time as now-teammate Kadre Gray — who very well might be the best scorer in U SPORTS history — Sow would’ve won scoring titles in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. He was the nation’s second-highest scorer in each of the last two seasons (both behind Gray) and was nearly five points ahead of the third-highest scorer in ‘18-’19. So Gray and Sow, the nation’s top two scorers in each of the last two seasons, will now share a backcourt for the Blackjacks.
Sow has also stepped up as the competition gets stiffer, with career playoff numbers of 28 points over seven postseason games off an incredible 50/43/80 shooting split. He’s as elite a scorer as they come and has shredded virtually every defence he’s seen in his three year OUA career. Sow, an Ottawa native, will now play for his hometown Blackjacks under head coach Charles Dubé-Brais and GM Jevohn Shepherd. It will be interesting to see what his role will be for the Blackjacks; historically, active U PORTS players have not seen too much playing time, but Sow is far from your everyday U SPORTS player.
Steal of Round #2: Lloyd Pandi (Pick #13 — Niagara River Lions via Carleton Ravens)
One of the youngest players selected, Pandi has played just one season with the Ravens in 2019-20, winning an OUA and U SPORTS championship, as per Carleton standards, while being named an OUA First-Team All-Star as well as the nation’s best rookie after leading the country in field goal percentage — as a guard — at 66.3 percent. His ability to finish at the rim despite being just 6’4/190 is incredible. Playing for the Blackjacks in last year’s Summer Series, he was named the league’s U SPORTS Player of the Year after averaging over eight points and five boards over 22 minutes per game.
Pandi is an excellent guard-rebounder, he racks up steals and deflections and can guard multiple positions; I imagine he’s a coach’s dream because of his efficient offensive game and savvy defensive abilities. Niagara has a really good blend of experienced vets and talented young guys on their roster that should put them among the favourites for the 2021 title.
Steal of Round #3: Grant Shephard (Pick #16 — Niagara River Lions via Carleton Ravens)
When in doubt, pick a Raven! Though Shephard hasn’t actually played a game for Carleton after transferring from UBC after the 2019-20 season, he checks all the boxes for a classic Raven forward — big, athletic, skilled, and sound defensively. At 6’10, he’ll be one of the bigger players in the CEBL this season; the River Lions also employ former Duke captain Javin DeLaurier, who is also 6’10, which will give them the ability to play big at times.
Shephard put up 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds over his final two seasons with the T-Birds and is a career 62 percent shooter, with most of his damage coming from inside the three point line. He’s actually a career 38 percent three point shooter, albeit in limited attempts, so it’ll be interesting to see his progression in that department. Free throw percentage is a nice stat to look at to get a general sense of if a guy can shoot or not, and Shephard’s career mark is 72 percent, so respectable, especially for a big. Given that his three point attempts will probably be fairly open, I think he’ll be able to knock ‘em down at a decent clip.
The upside at #16 is quite good for Niagara — Shephard was named to Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team this past February for the FIBA AmeriCup Qualifiers and has experience playing in the CEBL before (he played sparingly for Fraser Valley last season). He should do well as a backup big for the River Lions this season.