The Ottawa BlackJacks finally get to experience what they’ve waited their entire existence for.
For the first time, they get to hold their training camp in their own town, on their own court, at home. No more being forced into a Summer Series bubble; no longer will they have to play their whole season in a three-week span.
But when you look around the arena at the smiling faces of full-grown men gleeful to once again be able to play basketball after enduring a 14-day quarantine, you can’t help but shake the feeling that something doesn’t quite add up. You begin to count the players, crunch the numbers, carry the 1 and round up from the nearest decimal point. Then, it hits you like a Kadre Gray 3-pointer hits net. Does this team have too much talent?
Indeed, when you look through the careers of everyone on the court, it stands out that they’re all used to being starters while playing for their club teams. Given that CEBL games are 40 minutes long (approximately; the Elam Ending can skew things), the majority of players are going to have to get used to playing less time than they’re used to. As far as head coach Charles Dube-Brais is concerned, it’s a problem he’s perfectly happy to have.
“I do think it’s a good problem to have,” Dube-Brais said. “Obviously, we got 8 more days to figure this out for game 1. You got a couple more pieces coming in in the next few days, so we’ll have to figure that out. But I do think the overall talent level is high on the team. Yes, at some point some players will be not completely thrilled with the amount of minutes that they’re getting, but that’s also the nature of good teams and teams that want to win championships. So, you’d rather have that problem than the other way around, where you don’t know who to play because you don’t think they’re good enough. We got an abundance of riches, so let’s make the most out of it.”
Dube-Brais made it clear that he’s leaving it up to the players themselves to prove who is most deserving of a starting role. While he has some hypothetically lineups already set in his mind, he isn’t afraid to move some names around if they prove themselves worthy of a bigger role. That is, after all, what training camp is for.
“You always have an idea (about lineups), you’re thinking about something,” Dube-Brais continued. “But that doesn’t mean that 5 days from now it will be exactly what we do. But yeah, a little bit, there’s some players that we know should be starters on this team based on what their resume is. Now they have to prove it on the court that they are what we think they are. If other players are stepping up to the plate and outcompeting them, we’re totally open to flip some things around.”
As far as earning minutes on a stacked team, there may be no one more familiar with doing so than Nick Ward. The former Michigan State star had to split his playing time with front court players like Jaren Jackson Jr., Miles Bridges and Xavier Tillman while donning the iconic green and white. The star big man kept his advice to his teammates short and sweet as they try to earn their keep.
“Stay the course,” Ward said. “You know what you can do, you know how you can play, you got to be your own biggest cheerleader at times. So just stay the course.”
And if some of those teammates eventually end of taking away from his time? Ward says it’s a position he’s found himself in before, and something he’s willing to do again if it leads to more success for the team.
“I don’t mind splitting time. I played with a lot of great players over the years, in college and also professionally. So, I just try to earn my keep.”
We’ll have to wait and see which players end up taking the reigns for the team. One thing is for sure though: there’s an entire roster full of guys who are ready and willing to lead the BlackJacks to CEBL gold.