OUA East Men’s Basketball Preview: The Best Division in U SPORTS? 

Hamilton, ON- When it came time for the Final 8 in Halifax, the OUA East was at the forefront of it all. There were three teams at the tournament and two in the semi-finals. It ended with the Ottawa Gee-Gees winning bronze and the Carleton Ravens winning gold. Is this the best division in the nation? It very well could be as all three teams look to contend again this season. 

Carleton’s Wazir Latiff (Photo: Trevor MacMillan/Dalhousie Tigers/U SPORTS)

Carleton Ravens

2022-23 Record: 28-9 (18-4 regular season)

Preseason Record: 6-3

It was a year of ups and downs for Taffe Charles’ Ravens squad. They went through a tough preseason before some losses and low points in the regular season. They were blown out by Ottawa at home in the OUA finals before avenging that loss in Halifax a week later. Yet, at the end of it all, there they stood as national champions once again. 

The journey to repeat will be full of challenges this year as well. Program stalwarts Aiden Warnholtz, Connor Vreeken and Grant Shephard have moved on. It is upon some of the returning players to pick up the slack. One in particular is guard Marjok Okado, who burst onto the scene as a rookie last year, earning a spot on the OUA All-Rookie team. Fellow returnees Wazir Latiff and Reginald Jean Separphin will also be counted on. 

One big theme once you look at the Ravens’ roster is how many new players there are. They break in nine first-year players as well as transfers Noah Simpson and To Randriasalama. Rookies Augustas Brazdeikas and Xavier Spencer have already played major minutes and might have to do so as the season goes on in Carleton’s hunt to continue their title streak. 

Laurentian’s Gaetan Chamand (Photo: Laurentian Athletics)

Laurentian Voyageurs

2022-23 Record: 5-24 (3-19)

Preseason Record: 2-3

After a successful run with Kadre Gray and head coach Shawn Swords, the Voyageurs find themselves in a new era. Last season showed that with Georges Serresse taking over for Swords as the team went 3-19 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. 

There’s another new head coach this year as Brandon Edwards takes his first head coaching role in U SPORTS after being the lead assistant on Brock’s OUA title team in 2021-22. Edwards takes over a roster with some returning players and nine first-years. Last year’s leading scorer Caillou Lacroix is among those returning vets as well as Gaetan Chamand and Kamil Dia Hantchi. A first-year to watch for is Mali forward Ismael Konate, who is almost averaging a double-double (9.3 points, 9.1 rebounds) this season. 

Can Edwards take the success he’s been a part of at Brock into this Laurentian program? He’ll have his work cut out for him in this division. 

Nipissing’s Taijon Graham (Photo: Nipissing Athletics)

Nipissing Lakers

2022-23 Record: 5-21 (5-17)

Preseason Record: 1-2

The Nipissing Lakers are in the fourth season of the Thomas Cory era at head coach. With him at the helm, they made the playoffs for the second-time ever in 2022 but missed it last season. The Lakers have lost many key contributors from that year, including Muktar Mohamed, Noah LaPierre and Danny Lukusa. 

Back is fourth-year forward Taijon Graham, who won the OUA’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion award. Portuguese forward Ricardo Neves is their top returning scorer and he will be joined by guard Darnaz Mabanza, Humber College transfer Marcus Moore and first-year New Zealand guard Alex Blackmore. There’s plenty of turnover and new roles in North Bay as the Lakers aim to return to the playoffs. 

Ontario Tech’s Levi Ogbonna (Photo: Al Fournier/Ontario Tech Athletics)

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

2022-23 Record: 4-22 (4-18) 

Preseason Record: 2-4

The Ridgebacks have yet to reach the playoffs in their short history but are coming off a season where they earned a program-best four regular season wins. Their winning percentage has risen every season. With head coach Deluxshan Pathmanathan entering his second season, look for a possible continued uptick in results. 

Those results will come from the performances of their best players. As of now, that means some different players than last year. Team MVP Jayden Coke has departed as well as guard Andrade Junior Cummings. 

To take their place are guards Levi Ogbonna and Stefan Prica in addition to forward Caleb Kassa (averaging a career-best 15 points this season). Ontario Tech also welcomed in transfers Zubair Seyed (UFV), Keon Baker (New Mexico Military) and Ayub Nurhussien (Pearl River College). The early returns have been promising as the newcomers make up three of their four leading scorers. Baker has a team-best 20 points, including 27 points against UQAM on Oct. 7. 

Ottawa’s Dragan Stajic (Photo: Trevor MacMillan/Dalhousie Tigers/U SPORTS)

Ottawa Gee-Gees

2022-23 Record: 30-11 (17-5)

Preseason Record: 5-0

Despite falling short of the ultimate prize, last season was still a successful one for the Ottawa Gee-Gees. They won their first OUA title since 2014 and U SPORTS medal since 2015. This year’s squad will have a similar look to it as they look to reload. 

OUA All-Star Guillaume Pepin is gone as well but many of his teammates are not. Fifth-year guard Kevin Otoo made a smooth transition from Humber College to Ottawa and will to continue to build on that. Guard Dragan Stajic runs the offence while OUA All-Rookie team guard Jacques-Melaine Guemata looks to improve. Add in brothers Cole and Brock Newton as well as Carleton transfer Khalifa Koulamallah and you can make the case the Gee-Gees’ depth is as strong as ever. 

They’ve shown it this preseason, going 5-0 with wins against Harvard, UBC Okanagan, Trinity Western, St.Fx and Concordia. While it’s hard to say how the season will unfold, one can surmise that Ottawa will be fairly confident in their attempts to top last season’s performance. 

Queen’s Cole Syllas (Photo: Trevor MacMillan/Dalhousie Tigers/U SPORTS)

Queen’s Gaels

2022-23 Record: 27-8 (17-5)

Preseason Record: 6-2

The biggest strength for the Gaels might be their continuity. With Connor Keefe as their most notable loss, a majority of last year’s team is back. After not making nationals for many years, they’ve done so in back-to-back years. 

Brothers Cole and Luka Syllas figure to have as prominent of a role as ever. Now entering their fourth seasons, they figure to be as dominant as ever too. Michael Kelvin II emerged as an important forward for them who can score inside and stretch the floor. Fifth-year guard Cameron Bett provides scoring and defence. 

After reaching those heights of the past two seasons, the next question is how they can go even further. The answer may lie partly in the growth of the returning players. It may also lie in their new additions: Western transfer Aaron Tennant and Maine transfer Adefolarin Adetogun. Tennant brings OUA experience while Adetogun is currently their second-leading scorer and rebounder already. 

With what they have back and have added, this may be the year Queen’s continues their breakthrough and wins the division – if not the conference. 

Featured Image: Trevor MacMillan/Dalhousie Athletics/U SPORTS

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