This season more than any in recent memory has seen a deep influx of first-year talent into OUA men’s basketball, which bodes well for the conference going forward on a national scale. Also positive is that virtually all top freshman were born and basketball-bred here in Canada – primarily Ontario – again showing the depth of talent.
By my observation, there are at least 10 freshman who are or shortly will become impact players in the conference. Without question, the most immediately-impactful freshman in the OUA and the nation has been Laurentian’s 6’2″ dynamo Kadre Gray who we have highlighted in detail in previous posts. Gray, from Toronto’s Oakwood Collegiate, leads the OUA in scoring at 24.4 ppg and logs 35 minutes per game but as was previously highlighted, has been rather ordinary against the top teams and is second in the conference with 4.8 turnovers per game. Still, he remains the top newcomer in the conference and brings a new element of creating his own shot/breaking down defenders off the dribble that puts him on an All-Canadian path once his career is all said and done.
From an offensive numbers perspective, Laurier’s 6’1″ Tevean Kokko ranks among the top freshman in the conference given his 17.8 points per game in 31 minutes per game. Kokko, who is 1st year eligible but did play in a pre-season exhibition game with Ryerson last summer, is a high volume shooter who is turnover-prone (leads OUA with almost 5 turnovers per game) but thrives in the open court and off the dribble albeit with some high-risk decisions mixed in. Going head-to-head against Gray on the final weekend of the season, Kokko had a career-high 29 points in a six point home win over the Voyageurs.
Somewhat under the radar, Nipissing Lakers have forged a push toward the post-season and 6’3″ Jaaden Lewis (Thornhill Thornlea S.S.) is an under-rated piece of this growing program although he missed the final 3 games of the first-half due to injury. Still, Lewis averaged 13.2 points and 50% from three-point land with 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game with a season-high 21 points at Toronto.
Without question, the player with the largest potential upside in this class and arguably in the last decade or so is 6’10” Eddie Ekiyor, who Carleton has eased into the lineup given the intricacies of defending and reading offensive in the Ravens system. The most physically imposing, long and wide center prospect arguably ever in U-Sport history, Ekiyor has averaged 20 minutes per game with 8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds with his minutes and production growing by the game. To wit, in Carleton’s final 2 games of the first half against two Top 10 teams, Ekiyor was a force with 12 points, 6 rebounds in 22 minutes vs. Brock and 15 points (on 6-7 shooting), 8 rebounds, 2 blocks in 28 minutes against McMaster. Big men generally take longer to develop however Ekiyor has the physical tools to become an All-Canadian – quickly.
Speaking of the Badgers, expect 6’6″ freshman Daniel Cayer (John Abbott CEGEP) to lead this program for the next 4 1/2 seasons – he averages 8.0 points, 5.2 rebounds in 24 minutes per game and his overall skill set inside and out and high basketball IQ is a cornerstone of the growth of the Brock program. Another former Quebec/John Abbott CEGEP standout, Cayer’s teammate Keevon Small has smoothly stepped in to a veteran Ryerson Rams rotation and provided quality minutes off the bench, easing the burden of not having 6’7″ J.V. Mukama. The 6’6″ forward has averaged 7.6 ppg/5.3 rpg in just over 22 minutes and provides Rams another athlete who can defend at their level and get out in transition.
Much has been made previously of the wonderful freshman class that coach Justin Gunter has assembled at Waterloo and 6’6″ Nedim Hodzic thus far has been the most productive averaging over 14 ppg while logging over 30 minutes per game – the slashing forward has shown himself thus far to be the cornerstone of the revival of the Warriors program – but both 6’0″ Simon Petrov (8.3 ppg/28 mpg) and 6’4″ Justin Hardy (6.7 ppg) are also worthy of mention.
Other high honors candidates include: 6’1″ Omar Shiddo (Western – 12.6 ppg/24.3 mpg), 6’1″ Jordan Sobot (Guelph – 10.2 ppg/16.5 mpg), 6’7″ Anthony Zrvnar (Windsor – 7.1 ppg/17.8 mpg including a 17 point effort at Waterloo), 6’3″ Shamar Burrows (Laurier – 7.8 ppg/21 mpg) and 6’5″ Ammar Hassan (York – 7.7 ppg/6.3 rpg/1.2 apg/25 mpg), a somewhat-unheralded recruit by the Lions from London’s John Paul Collegiate.
OUA actions restarts this coming Friday, January 6th with 16 teams in action across the province.