By Martin Cleary
Basketball was expected to drop a notch on Grant Shephard’s priority list for the 2020-21 season. While he has been practising with the Carleton University Ravens, he knew there would be no games.
And Shephard, who played his last three U Sports seasons with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, had two strong reasons for knowing competitive basketball games were out of the question for him this season.
As a transfer student-athlete to Carleton from UBC, the 6-10 centre had to sit out the 2020-21 campaign under U Sports eligibility rules. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all U Sports university basketball games for this season.
But Shephard’s 2020-21 season recently took on a whole new dimension, when Canada Basketball named him to the national senior men’s team for the third FIBA AmeriCup 2022 Qualifier in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Carleton men’s basketball head coach Taffe Charles called Shephard’s national team appointment “a blessing in disguise.”
“I’m happy for him to get an opportunity to play,” Charles said. “It’s exciting for him.”
Shephard has been practising with the Ravens, when COVID-19 protocols allowed it. The fourth-year student-athlete is majoring in sciences during his online course study.
In his three seasons at UBC, Shephard was Canada West rookie of the year and on the CIS all-rookie team in 2017-18 as well as a conference all-star the last two seasons. He has played in two national Final 8s, placing third in 2020.
Canada Basketball didn’t participate in the second qualifier in November because of health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. FIBA fined Canada up to $227,138 and removed one standing point.
By attending the third qualifier in San Juan, the fine will be halved and the standing point is untouched. Canada Basketball, which is appealing the sanction, faces U.S. Virgin Islands and Cuba twice each over the next five days.
These games are part of the long and winding road leading to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Canada Basketball is still trying to qualify for the rescheduled 2021 Games. It must win the qualifying tournament in late June in Victoria to advance to Tokyo.
The senior national men’s team enters the 16-country, four-group San Juan qualifier with a 1-1 record and will play U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday and Saturday, and Cuba on Thursday and Sunday.
The top three teams in each of the four groups will earn a berth in the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 tournament. The Canadian team has six players on its 16-man roster with connections to Ottawa basketball.
Shephard is joined by Carleton alumni guard Phil Scrubb, forward Thomas Scrubb and guard Kaza Kajami-Keane, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ grad/guard Johnny Berhanemeskel and 6-10 centre Kyle Landry of the Ottawa Blackjacks.
Carleton guard Lloyd Pandi, the 2021 U Sports men’s rookie of the year and U Sports player of the year in the summer Canadian Elite Basketball League, was named to the national senior men’s team preliminary list of 24 players.
“Being on the list is always good,” Charles said about Pandi, a second-year player this non-season. “He’ll get his opportunity at some point. Once you’re on their list, it’s hard to get off.”
Four of the six players with Ottawa connections are playing basketball in France’s top professional division this season, the JEEP Elite Pro A league.
Thomas Scrubb (averaging 7.8 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game) is with Bourg. Phil Scrubb (12.2 ppg, 4.9 assists) is playing for Limoges. Kajami-Keane (12.5 ppg, 3.3 assists) is on the LeMans roster. Berhanemeskel (4.4 ppg, 1.6 rebounds) is running the court with Nanterre.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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