For many Canadian university basketball programs, the sights, sounds, and feelings of playing in front of consistently sold-out crowds are a rare occurrence. Never mind the thought of nearly 10,000 fans showing up to cheer for their local university program.
Thanks to a visionary initiative launched 17 years ago, the Carleton University Ravens, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, and basketball enthusiasts in the National Capital Region have reveled in an annual basketball extravaganza that rivals the best experiences south of the border.
The lasting impact of this game extends beyond the court, delivering an unparalleled recruiting advantage that has propelled both teams to the top of the U Sports rankings and helped turn the city of Ottawa into a top basketball destination.
Since its inception in 2007, the Capital Hoops Classic has consistently drawn record crowds, evolving into a must-attend showdown between the country’s premier university basketball program and their cross-town rivals, vying to match their unparalleled success.
Now in its seventeenth edition, the yearly sold-out event has witnessed the Ravens dominate the Gee-Gees 13-3 on their way to clinching 13 of their 17 U Sports national championships, leaving the Gee-Gees eagerly anticipating their moment in the spotlight.
Under the guidance of James Derouin, their all-time winningest coach, the Gee-Gees might finally be on the cusp of rewriting history between the two programs. The 2024 Capital Hoops Classic could be the prelude to the university’s first men’s basketball title.
With a packed TD Place in Centretown boasting an evenly split crowd of, 6131 devoted fans, the top-ranked Gee-Gees dealt another significant blow to the unranked Ravens’ season.
Maintaining their lead from the opening tip-off to the final whistle, the nation’s top-ranked team nearly surrendered a 17-point advantage, seeing it trimmed to 50-47 at the end of the third quarter. However, they rallied in the final ten minutes, outscoring the defending champions 21-14, securing a 71-61 victory.
Brock Newton, leading the charge with 20 points, showcased his experience with 10 crucial points in the fourth quarter, finishing 9-of-17 from the floor. Reflecting on the win, Newton emphasized its significance, stating, “Looking at that trophy, there was a lot of Carleton on there. It felt great to finally see Ottawa on it this year. It’s a huge confidence boost for our team.”
Former Carleton guard Khalifa Koulamallah (Gatineau, Que.) added 15 points, while Dragan Stajic (Waterloo, Ont.) contributed 12 points, seven assists, and three steals. Kevin Otoo’s two critical three-pointers in the fourth quarter halted the Ravens’ momentum, ending with 10 points on 2-of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
Ravens’ prized freshman forward Augustas Brazdeikis recorded his fourth double-double of the season and finished with 16 points and ten rebounds on 7-of-16 shooting. Six-foot-three shooting guard Ton Randriasalama provided a spark off the bench with 12 points and five rebounds on 2-of-3 three-pointers.
Much like their first encounter, the Gee-Gees played a clean game with only five turnovers, capitalizing on the Ravens’ 17 errors.
Over the two meetings this season, Ottawa generated 58 points off 38 turnovers, while Carleton forced only nine turnovers, scoring a mere four points. Conversely, Carleton has completely annihilated their rivals with a 106-52 rebounding edge in the two games, securing 37 offensive rebounds compared to the Gee-Gees’ 12.
Amidst their worst season since 1997-98, the 10–8 Ravens face the risk of missing the Ontario University Conference (OUA) playoffs for the first time in decades, struggling to score points and plagued by high turnovers.
Following a lengthy locker room discussion with his team, Ravens head coach Taffe Charles expressed frustration, stating, “We have a young group that didn’t adjust to what they were doing. It’s frustrating because we don’t have the expertise right now to adapt to those changes.” He continued, “credit to them, they are a good team, but it’s frustrating because we are close, yet still pretty far.”
In stark contrast, the Gee-Gees are currently savouring their most successful season under the leadership of Coach Derouin, having lost just two games in the entire season, accumulating an impressive record of 20-2.
Having navigated the Gee-Gees’ challenges both as a player in the early 2000s and later as an assistant coach, Ottawa head coach James Derouin has harnessed the Capital Hoops Classic as the ultimate recruiting tool. This strategic approach has enabled him to secure commitments from some of the top local Ottawa basketball talent, as well as some of the best freshmen in the country, and recently bolster his roster with impactful NCAA transfers.
“It’s the gem, you know, of the program. I was on the radio earlier this week discussing how various programs have attempted to recreate a similar environment, yet no one has truly succeeded. I view it as an NCAA big game environment, division one. This crowd is the largest they’ll play in front of, even surpassing the national final. Showcasing this atmosphere is a huge part, and yes, we leverage it. We use it to our advantage,” Derouin elaborated on the event’s impact and significance.
The formula appears to be paying off for Derouin and his coaching staff, as the Gee-Gees have consistently been ranked in the U Sports top ten for 151 consecutive weeks, the longest streak in the country dating back to December 4, 2013.
Throughout Derouin’s illustrious 22-year tenure as both an assistant and head coach, the Gee-Gees have celebrated a multitude of accomplishments, securing multiple bronze and silver medals while narrowly missing the prestigious W.P. McGee trophy.
A highlight among their accolades is the Stuart W. Aberdeen Memorial Trophy (CIS Coach of the Year), bestowed upon Derouin in the 2014-15 season. Furthermore, Derouin’s all-time regular-season OUA conference record win-loss stands at an impressive 207-60, highlighting a remarkable 0.775% winning percentage and positioning him among the top 25 winning coaches in U Sports history.
Derouin intimately acknowledges the absence of a national championship banner in Montpetit Hall’s rafters, yet he remains steadfast in keeping his team focused on the ultimate goal. He stated, “We’ve won Capital Hoops before, we’ve won Wilson Cups (conference championships) before, but we’re never getting too high on any of these wins because we’ve got one thing missing – a national championship banner.”