The Ottawa BlackJacks finally have a win under their belts, and they’ll look to keep the momentum rolling as the head into Guelph against the Nighthawks.
Ottawa picked up their elusive first victory on Sunday against the Newfoundland Growlers. It was a tight game right down to the wire, but the BlackJacks were able to outlast Brandon Sampson’s record-setting 42-point night to take the 86-85 victory.
They’ll take on another team that has struggled to a 1-3 start to the season in the Nighthawks, in what amounts to a home-and-home for the BlackJacks thanks to an extended break. Both teams will be desperate to pick up some much-needed victories against a team near them at the bottom of the standings.
Things weren’t supposed to be this way for the Guelph Nighthawks.
Led by pre-season MVP favourite Cat Barber, his backcourt running mate Ahmed Hill, and the much-hyped AJ Lawson, the Nighthawks were supposed to outgun any opposition they faced. While all those players have been as advertised, it hasn’t been enough to make up for their porous defense. They’re giving up a league high 93 points a game and lack the depth to match that output.
Their biggest flaw has been the construction of the team. There’s a dearth of talent in the front court that limits their offensive options and makes it easy for teams to score on the inside. In their defense, they are still missing key players like Michael Bryson and Trayvon Reed from their roster. However, if both of them were to join the team, that would put them over the import limit, meaning they would have to choose who to scratch… like I said, poor roster construction.
Still, this is not a team you can afford to take lightly. They have multiple players with the high level of talent that can single handily drag the rest of the team to victory.
Of course, the biggest factor for the BlackJacks in this game will be the number of new faces.
James Derouin replaced Charles Dubé-Brais prior to the last game and earned his first professional coaching win. Immediately after that, lead assistant coach Tom Johnson left the squad to return to Belgium and was replaced with David DeAveiro. And on the court, the team will have a shiny new toy in the form of Jackson Rowe.
Rowe is a dynamic player, widely considered one of the best Canadians playing overseas. He was named the top forward in Sweden after leading his team to a championship following a 26-5 regular season. He’s long, athletic, and can score at all three levels (though you’d like to see his three-pointer be more consistent). He and Deng Adel will form one of – if not the – most formidable pairings on the wing in the league.
Maxime Boursiquot has been one of the best, most consistent players on the team this year, so it will be a bit of a bummer to see him moved to the bench. But he’ll be able to offer some punch in the rotation, something the team has sorely lacked so far.
If James Derouin can get the team to tighten up on the defensive end, it will lead to lots of points in transition with two highly athletic wings running the floor. Add in Walt Lemon Jr. and the other guards finding their comfort zone in recent games, and Ottawa can get a nice run going here with they play their cards right.
The BlackJacks first win came against a team that was playing just their second game of the season, and yet they were only able to scrape by with a one-point victory. That being said, it’s not how but how many, and the BlackJacks will take whatever wins they can get right now.
As we saw against the Growlers, Ottawa can take advantage of smaller teams, and they’ll have the opportunity to do just that in their back-to-back games against Guelph. On the other hand, we also saw that this team can get beat in transition and plays their worst basketball in Elam time.
The CEBL as a whole is a league that’s built its reputation on its speed and physicality – and obviously, the Elam ending. That means the team struggles in basically the worst areas that you can hope for as a fan. It’s imperative that Derouin finds the trick to fixing those flaws that Dubé-Brais could not, and do so quickly. Things don’t get much easier than a three game stand against the two teams lower than you in the standings. If the BlackJacks hope to turn their season around, it starts on Thursday.