The tip-off to the 2022 CEBL season continues to draw nearer, as we are now within two weeks to the start of the campaign. Since we last spoke, Ottawa BlackJacks general manager Jevohn Shepherd has stayed busy, filling out his roster and bringing the team up to 16 total players. That number includes the players taken in the annual U SPORTS draft, as well as the other university players signed to developmental deals.
For now, we’ll look at the regular roster players, while the U SPORTS draft picks and signings will get their own article in the coming days.
An Ottawa native will be making his return home when Corey Johnson dons the BlackJacks jersey for this first time.
After growing up in the Capital, Johnson would go on to Harvard University where he averaged 7.2 points a game over 105 contests. Since then, he’s gone on to have a career in Spain, the U.K. and the CEBL. In total, he’s put up 10.5 points & 3.6 rebounds in 98 professional games. He’s enjoyed his most successful season to date this year with Newcastle of the British Basketball League, averaging a career best 13.3 points on career high of .432 FG% and .385 3P%.
Simply put, Johnson is a gunner who has made his career living and dying from beyond the arc. Adding his collegiate and professional career together, almost 70% of his shots have come from deep.
Given that, it makes sense that his shooting totals don’t jump off the charts at you. However, that long range ability and frequency makes up for any perceived lack of efficiency.
Much like the Tyrell Green re-signing, Johnson’s game pairs perfectly with the rest of the roster we’ve seen so far. He can offer a completely different look for the coaching staff coming off the bench or provide an outside threat in a starting line-up that likes to do most their scoring in the paint.
Ryan Wright is only the second returning player from last year’s regular season squad, and it’s easy to see why the front office opted to bring him back.
The big man averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 rebounds last year, when he also led the league with a .717 field goal percentage. That’s mostly because he exclusively takes shots from inside the cylinder, but hey, he’s a guy who knows his strengths and limitations. More importantly, for the vast majority of their games, the team had an overwhelmingly positive rating when he was on the floor.
Following the end of the BlackJacks season, Wright went on to play 11 games in Russia, where he averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds. After that, he made his way to Kosovo, where he put up 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 6 games. Finally, he most recently played in Angola, which gives him the rare distinction of having played professional basketball in every continent outside of Antarctica.
Wright will have a similar role to what we saw last year, coming off the bench to provide some stability in the middle of the paint. However, given Chad Posthumus’ age, injury history and the BlackJacks schedule, we could see him start a handful of contests to limit the strain on Posthumus’ body.
Regardless, Wright’s biggest impact could very well be behind the scenes as he’s a well traveled veteran on a fairly young team. Look for him to be a vocal and emotional leader for the quad both on and off the court.
Walt Lemon Jr.
The BlackJacks took their time announcing who their import players were going to be this season, but man, did they ever make it worth the wait.
Walt Lemon Jr. has been a mainstay in top tier basketball leagues for nearly a decade. He’s averaged 18 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists in over 200 (yes, 200) G-League games. Overseas, he’s been a constant scoring threat in Hungary, Germany, Turkey, Greece and Israel. And most notably, he’s played in 11 NBA games, including a 6-game run with the Chicago Bulls that saw him average 14.3 points a game.
I could go on about Lemon Jr., but you get the point. He’s a certified bucket getter of the highest degree. He’ll enter the season among the favourites to win the MVP come season’s end. He’ll have no shortage of scorers to setup, and his addition alone makes the BlackJacks offense one of the most dangerous in the CEBL. Buckle up and enjoy.
What is Jordan without Pippen? McDavid without Draisaitl? Triple H without Shawn Michaels?
All that is to say if you’re going to have one superstar, you need another for them to play off of. Enter Jared Wilson-Frame. While Lemon can single-handedly take over games, there needs to be another player who can step up should he face double teams or just have a bad game.
The second American to sign in Ottawa, JWF is a bonafide sharpshooter from outside. Incredibly, he’s already played in 71 games this year split between Mexico and the G-League. South of the border he average 13.6 points over 33 games, before moved on to the Utah Jazz affiliate Salt Lake City Stars. There, he scored 16 points a game over 38 contests. In total, he shot over 37% from deep on a high volume of shots.
My goodness. Early in the offseason it looked like the wing positions would be the BlackJacks strength with players like Jackson Rowe, Deng Adel and Tyrell Green. Somehow, Jevohn Shepherd managed to bring in even more firepower at the guard positions in the form of the two American all-stars.
If there was one flaw in the roster, it was a lack of shooting in the starting lineup. JWF takes care of that problem in a big way.
If you want versatility, look no further than Jermaine Haley.
The 6’7” Canadian has experience playing both guard positions as well as the small forward. After spending two years playing in the vaunted Mountaineers ‘Press Virginia’ defense, he’s an expert at picking up shooters on the switch and tormenting ball-handlers.
In his 97 game NCAA career split between New Mexico State and West Virginia, Haley averaged 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2 assists. He would then go on to play in the top league in Germany, where the pandemic limited him to just 8 games. He started this year in the G-League playing for the Denver Nugget affiliate Grand Rapids Gold. He only saw time in 7 games, but was on the roster for a few months, so he was still getting practice time and training with some of the best players and coaches out there.
After being released from the team, he caught on with the London Lightning of the National Basketball League of Canada. There, he’s put up 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists and leading his team to the top seed in the playoffs.
Not to sound repetitive, but Haley’s versatility is going to be a big part of his game this season. While on paper he might be the 9th or 10th guy on the depth chart, his ability to play four positions will have him see his fair share of floor time. Add on to that his penchant for defense, and he could end up being one of the more impactful BlackJacks this season.
One of the late additions to the team, Shamiel Stevenson will none the less look to make an impact this year.
Stevenson split his NCAA career between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Nebraska. He only really saw playing time in his freshman and senior years but did manage to average 7 points and 3.4 rebounds over 62 games.
The Toronto native started his professional career in Serbia this year, where in 18 games he averaged 12.7 points and 4.2 rebounds.
The Stevenson signing mostly appears to be for organizational depth, as he wouldn’t figure to be a regular in the rotation thanks to the great depth the team has built up. However, Jermaine Haley is going to be late joining the team while he finishes out the year in London, so Stevenson will probably get some run as the 10th man to start the year. If he plays well enough in those games, he could very well steal a spot in the everyday lineup.
The third and final American to sign with the BlackJacks (as well as the second Harvard grad – he and Johnson played together for two years), Edosomwan will look to solidify the interior defense this season.
After appearing in 107 games for the Crimson where he averaged 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, Edosomwan has only played in 19 professional games in Mexico and Canada despite graduating in 2017.
That’s largely because he is the Founder and CEO of his own media company (again, Harvard grad) the Unfiltered Network, which profiles university students and is currently active in over 50 schools.
Regardless of his lack of in-game experience, Edosomwan has looked pretty darn good when he has played. In 11 games with the Sudbury 5 this year he averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. For his career, he’s putting up 15.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game.
Much like Stevenson, Edosomwan has been brought in to provide depth. However, he is playing behind Chad Posthumus and Ryan Wright, two older players who have a history of injuries. You can expect to see him in a handful of games throughout the year to give one of the other big men a night off, or step into a bigger role should one of them get injured (knock on wood).
Wow. Just wow. This is a roster that is legitimately 12 men deep, with some very high-end talent to lead them into the season. Kudos to Shepherd for putting together a team that should be viewed as one of the favourites to win a championship on their home court.
While it’s somewhat disappointing to see only two returning players from last year’s regular season team, the reality is that team failed to produce, and changes needed to be made.
Of course, the most notable difference is that this is a much, much younger squad. Last year’s training camp squad featured 8 (eight!) players aged 30 or over. This year? Only two players (Wright and Posthumus) have reached that watermark, though Lemon Jr. will turn 30 during the campaign.
It’s worth noting that the league as a whole has seen an increase in the level of talent that’s been brought in. So while it’s not like we can expect this BlackJacks team to just walk through the competition, they should none the less finish the year as one of the better clubs in the league.
I’ll break things down a little bit more when I look at the U SPORTS players, but needless to say, it’s a good time to be a BlackJacks fan.