Breaking down the men’s teams in the OUA Central Division

Hamilton, ON- The OUA Central Division is arguably the toughest division in the conference. It features the defending OUA champion, another OUA semi-finalist and some solid programs. The Brock Badgers won the Wilson Cup and will look to build upon that. Meanwhile, McMaster and Lakehead also enjoyed success last year. The Toronto schools have potential to be good as well. 

Brock Badgers

Isaiah Bujdoso (Photo: Brock Athletics)

Preseason Record: 3-4

It was a dream season for the Badgers as they won the OUA title before losing at nationals. While some of the main players of that team have departed – TJ Lall, Daniel Cayer, Emmanuel Owootoah – some others remain. 

Jesse Barnes and Isaiah Bujdoso will have bigger roles. As well Godsman Kwakwah and Jordan Tchuente. Meanwhile, Daniel Caldwell and Kascius Small-Martin return for their fifth seasons. 

The X-factor could lie in their transfers. Lall, Bujdoso and Owootoah played significant roles in the Badgers’ success last year. This year, the team has brought in Michael Matas (SIU-Edwardsville), Jevonnie Scott (Penn St.) and Kevaughn Ellis (Washburn University) who is redshirting this season. It’s paid dividends already Scott is tied with Bujdoso as their leading scorer and Matas has carved out an important rotational role. 

Head coach Willy Manigat and the program’s recruiting and culture building looks set to continue. 

Lakehead Thunderwolves

Laoui Msambya (Photo: Lakehead Athletics)

Preseason Record: 7-0 

Ever since their 2-22 season in 2017-18, the Thunderwolves have been on an upward trajectory. They finished 17-5 in 2019-20 but lost in their quarterfinals playoff game. They went 11-5 in 2021-22 before beating Windsor in the postseason. 

This year, head coach Jon Kreiner’s team has almost all their contributors back. Team Co-MVP Laoui Msambya runs their offence. Fellow Co-MVP Michael Okafor finished as an OUA West All-Star and the team’s leading scorer before playing for the CEBL’s Hamilton Honey Badgers. Wing Dylan Morrison is a top notch defender, earning OUA West Defensive Player of the Year. 

Add in TMU transfer Tyler Sagl – who joins brother Chris on the team – and Lakehead looks poised to continue climbing. They’ve done so in the preseason, going undefeated with wins over UNB, St. Thomas, Acadia, Manitoba, Nipissing and Winnipeg. 

McMaster Marauders

Mychael Paulo (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Preseason Record: 5-4

Last season, head coach Patrick Tatham’s Marauders pulled out some big wins over division rivals en route to an OUA semi-finals. They were the only team to beat Brock in the OUA. 

While McMaster has to fill the void left by OUA West All-Star point guard Jordan Henry, the team is arguably deeper and possibly better than last year. Mike Demagus made a big leap last year, with a OUA West All-Star nod. He and Mychael Paulo provide scoring and versatility. 

Seneca College transfer Khalil Miller joins a forward group with potential. Nathan Charles and Ayres Culley-Bremner have had some strong performances. As has first-year Brendan Amoyaw – who played for Team Canada at the FIBA U18 Americas tournament this summer. 

Tatham planned a tough preseason and the Marauders have some notable wins (UPEI, Concordia, St. Fx) and losses (Oregon, Laval, Carleton, Victoria). McMaster might also have an ace up their sleeve with highly-touted NCAA transfer Cashius McNeilly, who played well in the preseason but will be out for the start of the regular season. 

TMU Bold

Aaron Rhooms (Photo: Curtis Martin/TMU Athletics)

Preseason Record: 5-4

The Bold have a new name and in some ways a new team. Eleven players have departed since last season while 13 have come in. 

Head coach Dave DeAveiro has leaned into transfers. David Walker (CSU Bakersfield), Simon Chamberlain (Carleton) and Lincoln Rosebush (UBC) have contributed this preseason already. Cameron Ramage (Ontario Tech), Julian Walker (Western) and Aidan Wilson (Fraser Valley) are redshirting. 

For all the roster turnover, the returning players will also play a major role. Aaron Rhooms is coming off a standout rookie season. He was named to the OUA East All-Rookie team and gained professional experience with the CEBL’s Scarborough Shooting Stars this summer. Ankit Choudhary also had a stellar rookie year and seems ready to build on it. 

After years of being an elite OUA team, the Bold took a bit of the step back. However, this season, with the returning players continuing to grow and the new players making their mark, the hope could be to return to Wilson Cup contention. 

Toronto Varsity Blues

Inaki Alvarez (Photo: Tiffany Luke/University of Toronto Athletics)

Preseason Record: 3-3

This season marks the first-year since 2012-13 that John Campbell will not be the head coach of the Varsity Blues. Campbell’s teams reached the playoffs four times in his tenure, but none since 2018. 

In his place is former Brock Badgers head coach Madhav Trivedi, who was an assistant with Toronto the past three seasons. 

Trivedi takes over a team coming off a 5-11 season. The Varsity Blues lost leading scorer Evan Shadkimi and standout rookie Kalyem Liburd-Mullings but bring back second-leading scorer Inaki Alvarez and forward Somachi Agbapu, who is a force on the glass. 

Transfer Callum Baker (Flagler College) has led the team offensively this preseason, averaging a team-best 18 points and a team-high 29.5 minutes. He, Alvarez and David Ramirez have shown to be proficient three-point shooters. 

The three ball could be an equalizer for them against some of the OUA heavyweights. They have victories over MacEwan, Bishop’s and Thompson Rivers so far. Toronto faces a challenging start to the OUA season with games against Brock, TMU (twice) and Laurier. 

York Lions

Somto Dimanochie (Photo: Sanmann Bodake/York Athletics)

Preseason Record: 0-3 

Like the Varsity Blues, the York Lions are another team with a first-year head coach. Jermain Holness replaces Nate Philippe after years as an OUA assistant. He was an assistant coach at TMU when they reached nationals in 2018 and 2019, a lead assistant at TMU for 2020 and an assistant at York last season. 

The Lions are coming off an offseason of transition. Fourteen players are gone from last year’s squad with six players arriving. Despite all the departures, York does have team pillars Somto Dimanochie and Prince Kamunga in the fold this season. Dimanochie spent time with the CEBL’s Edmonton Stingers this summer while Kamunga is coming off being named an OUA West All-Star for the first time. Fourth-year guard Tyler Pryce is also back as a key starter.

The Lions added some players with university and college experience in Yaw Antwi-Boasiako (McMaster), Quintin Herbert (Centennial College) and Tyler Van Dyke (Lambton College). 

York went 5-11 last season and will look to improve that total. However, after losing their three preseason games, they are still searching for their first win of 2022-23. 

Featured Image: Mackenzie Gerry/Brock Athletics

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