BlackJacks

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The calendar has flipped over to June, which means the CEBL season and BlackJacks basketball is just around the corner. As Canadians, we’ve become spoiled watching the Raptors make playoff runs over the last few years. While that may not be the case this season, we only have a few weeks left before we can get our Canadian basketball fill.

The BlackJacks have continued to fill out their roster, signing three more players and drafting another three. That brings their total roster to 15, so unless players are kept out by injuries or prior engagements with their club teams, it’s unlikely we’ll see any more signings.

Just like last time, I’ll offer a quick summary of each player’s career followed by a breakdown of what I expect from them this season.

Eric Kibi – F

An Ottawa native by way of Montreal, Kibi’s career started in junior college at Jacksonville. After averaging 14.2 PTS & 9.2 REB over two seasons, he split the next two seasons in the NCAA between Arkansas – Little Rock and Abilene Christian, putting up averages of 5.9 PTS & 4.8 REB. He’s since played 215 games across 10 countries, including Holland, France, Spain, and Germany. Last year, he averaged 6.3 PTS & 5.2 REB for the BlackJacks. For his career, he averages 8.1 PTS & 6.2 REB over 20.1 MIN per game. Spending this season with the Hague Royals of the Holland-DBL, he averaged 12.7 PTS and led the league in defensive (7.7) and total (10.4) rebounds per game. He has also represented the Senior Congolese National team during the 2017 & 2019 Afro Basket tournaments, being named Defensive Player of the Tournament in the latter.

Breakdown:

The second BlackJack to resign with the team, Kibi’s game revolves around three things: defense, rebounding, and energy. Despite only standing 6-6, he’s made a career out of locking down big men and beating them to loose balls. The CEBL bringing back the Elam Ending mostly eliminates the need for a lockdown-forward late in games, which is the role Kibi would usually be best suited for. But he has shown a more offensive side to his game in the past 2 seasons, and with the BlackJacks most likely relying on a pair of young players in Ward and Teague to run their front court, Kibi could step in and play a big role for the team if either of them struggles.

Ryan Wright – F

Wright is a Mississauga native who made it to two powerhouse NCAA programs in UCLA and Oklahoma despite playing high school ball in his hometown. Playing in just 10.4 minutes a game over 121 contests split between the schools, Wright averaged 2.5 PTS & 2.2 REB a game. He’s since played in 419 games across a whopping 14 different countries. Through it all, he’s averaging 12.1 PTS & 6.9 REB.

Breakdown:

Standing 6-9 and 245-pounds, Wright is a big man that likes to cut to the basket and finish with impunity. His game is pretty much tailor-made to be a fan favourite, so expect him to constantly push for starting minutes or be one of the first off the bench. However, he’s a non-factor from deep and has struggle from the line throughout his career, which may end up limiting when and how much he gets used.

Earl Calloway – G

From the ATL to the CEBL, Calloway will be the most experienced player in the league. Splitting three seasons in the NCAA between New Mexico State and Indiana, he averaged 5.8 PTS & 2.5 AST over 86 games. Since graduating, he has gone on to play 496 games in Spain, Turkey, Croatia, and the NBA G-League. For his career, he’s averaged 10.2 PTS, 3.1 REB & 3.8 AST. He also appeared in 20 NBA Summer League games over his career, putting up averages of 8.3 PTS, 2.5 REB & 2.7 AST. Having dual-citizenship, he played for the Bulgarian national team in the 2011 Eurobasket qualification round.

Breakdown:

Forget the CEBL, Calloway’s level of experience is unmatched by almost anyone outside of the NBA. Spain and Turkey are regarded as having the best leagues outside of the NBA, and he’s played at their highest level throughout his entire career. Combined with his time in the G-League and Summer League, that’s almost 500 games against the best players outside of the Association, all while playing significant minutes. At 37 years-old, he’s on the backend of his career. But he’s still proven he can play at a high level, and brings invaluable knowledge to spread among the team’s younger players.

CEBL Draft Picks

Ali Sow – G

Merivale High School stand up! The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawk was the BlackJacks first pick in this year’s CEBL draft. In 66 games at Laurier, he’s averaged 22.2 PTS, 4.1 REB & 3.1 AST. Sow finished second in OUA scoring during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He represented Canada at the 2019 World University Games, where he averaged 7.5 PTS & 2.8 REB over 4 games. He was drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft by the Guelph NightHawks, but didn’t see the court.

Guillaume Pepin – F

The Montreal native was the second-round pick for his adopted hometown. In 36 games with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gee’s, Pepin has averaged 15.1 PTS, 7.1 REB, 1.7 AST & 1.4 STL a game. For the 2019 season, he was named to the CIS All-Rookie Team and earned the OUA Rookie of the Year Award.

Graddy Kanku – G

The BlackJacks third pick in the CEBL draft, Kanku was born in Montreal but spent five years in Ottawa before moving for university, so this is a homecoming of sorts. In his first year at Ontario Tech, Kanku averaged 20.4 PTS, 5.2 REB, 3.3 AST & 1.9 STL over 19 games. He was named to the OUA Al-Rookie Team on top of being Ontario Tech’s Male Freshman Athlete of the Year after finishing 15th in OUA scoring.

Breakdown:

I’ll group these three together as they’re all in the same position. The CEBL draft brings in current university players to spend the summer learning the pro game, making connections and earning some cash before returning for the school year. It’s a great program and one of my favourite things about the league. However, it also means that with rare exception – such as Lloyd Pandi on last year’s BlackJacks – the players don’t see a lot of court action. In fact, players from this year’s draft are at an even greater disadvantage considering they haven’t played competitive ball in a year because of the lockdown.

That being said, all three players bring something unique to the team. Sow is a scoring machine and can put points up from anywhere on the court. Pepin has the size and skill to be a prototypical 3&D wingman. And Kanku can bounce his way out of any arena. Seriously, look up clips of this guy, he’s a walking highlight reel.

The depth of this team means it’s highly unlikely we see any of them take the court unless there are a number of injuries, but it’s good that they’re getting this experience and comforting to know we have them if we need them.

Team Breakdown

With the team appearing to be filled out for the season, it looks like everything I said in my last article has held true. The BlackJacks front office has put an emphasis on size, depth, and basketball IQ, which has been further cemented with these signings.

Out of those three pillars the team has been built upon, I think their depth is the most impressive. Not including the draft picks, there is almost nothing separating the players if you tried to rank them from 1 to 12. It’s also made predicting the rotation virtually impossible. I thought Teague’s NCAA background would be enough to have him start, but now it looks like Wright or Archie might be ahead of him. As far as the guards go, I’m confident Johnny Buckets will be the BlackJacks starting PG, but I have no idea who gets the nod at the 2 or how they’ll spread minutes off the bench. And don’t even get me started on the 3. I still feel good in predicting Nick Ward will be the BlackJacks MVP, though.

Overall, I like this BlackJacks team a lot. They’ll be hard for other teams to match up against and have multiple players they can lean on in crunch time. On paper, they’re a better team than the one they fielded last year. But the league as a whole has seen a massive jump in the quality of players that have been signed. Still, I have no doubt they’ll make it to the playoffs, and with the Elam ending back in place, anything can happen from there.

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