HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The traditional face of high school basketball has made a complete about-face.
During the past 15 years, the explosion in the interest and player development in Ottawa has seen high school basketball grow from one level of the game to four distinct divisions to meet the goals of every player and team.
Remember the days when the notice would go up on the bulletin board for high school basketball team tryouts. The teacher-coach would welcome a bus load of keen student-athletes before reducing the squad to a manageable 12 to 15 players, who would play in one Ottawa-high-school-dedicated league.
That has all changed in the past several years with the creation of elite prep school teams based in a high school setting and the high school system divided into multiple divisions.
Canada Topflight Academy, which is located at Notre Dame High School, has Gold and Red senior teams and a Red junior team for boys in the National Preparatory Association league. The Capital Courts Academy, which is linked to Cairine Wilson Secondary School, and the Louis-Riel High School Rebelles have girls’ teams in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association.
By attracting the best players, these academies play against better competition in Canada and the United States and are instructed by high-level coaches. This showcase format allows the players to be scouted by Canadian and American university coaches to advance their academic and athletic careers.
But what about the other high school student-athletes who love to play the game? Well, the teacher-coaches are still there and after they assess their talent, they can enter their school in the OFSAA division, which allows the team to play for the right to go to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ championship in March; or the Tier 1 or Tier 2 divisions.
During the 2019-20 National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association season, which was the last season before the COVID-19 pandemic ruled the court and cancelled the 2020-21 campaign, 21 schools opted for the senior boys’ OFSAA division, while another 21 schools fed into the next best level at Tier 1 and 12 schools played in Tier 2.
On the girls’ side, the NCSSAA played the 2021-22 fall season with seven fewer teams than in 2019-20, the last season before the pandemic. In 2019-20, there were 10 schools in the OFSAA division, 24 in Tier 1 and 14 in Tier 2. For the 2021-22 season, the NCSSAA combined the OFSAA and Tier 1 divisions, which attracted 27 schools, while 14 remained in Tier 2.
High school basketball certainly has gone in many positive directions. But at the top level, where do the best academy players go? High Achievers: Stay-Safe Edition looked at the Capital Courts Academy program, which is in its fifth season, and learned it has prepared at least 10 players for Canadian and American university women’s basketball programs. The split was equal at five for Canadian universities and five for the American schools.
Here is a look at eight Capital Courts’ grads, who are active university players, and one academy prospect.
Guard Hannah Riddick played only the 2019-20 season with Capital Courts, but made a huge impression before signing with Memphis University. In her final OSBA season, she averaged 16.6 points, nine rebounds, eight steals and six assists a game.
Early in her freshman season at Memphis, Riddick has played 57 minutes in seven games, pulling down 2.4 rebounds and scoring 2.4 points a game.
In nine Atlantic University Sport games, University of New Brunswick forward Katie Butts is ranked No. 3 in conference rebounds at 10.3 a game and No. 7 in field-goal percentage at 44.7. She also averages 10 points a game over 24.3 minutes a game.
A junior guard at Oklahoma State University, Micah Dennis has played 49 minutes in six games this season. She has compiled five points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Cassandra Joli-Coeur is a freshman at McMaster University, where she has hit 14 of her 29 field-goal attempts for 28 points and added 16 rebounds in 68 minutes. McMaster has a 5-1 OUA conference record at the fall break.
National team player Merissah Russell is a sophomore guard with the No. 10-ranked University of Louisville. She played her fifth game this season on Sunday and had her most floor time with 12 minutes, scoring three points and collecting two rebounds. Her averages are 8.9 minutes, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 points a game.
A junior guard-forward for Sacred Heart University, Marie-Laeticia Ziba has played 42 minutes in four games, connected for 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Marlo Steenbakkers, a sophomore forward for Saint Mary’s University, has a 57.1 field-goal shooting percentage in six games. She has averaged 3.7 points and 2.0 rebounds a game.
Freshman forward Sira Ba is a forward for Drexel University. In her only game this season, the former three-year Capital Courts’ player has played two minutes and recorded two defensive rebounds.
Cassandre Prosper of Rosemere, Que., is expected to be the next big prospect for Capital Courts, which has a 5-5 OSBA record this season. A Grade 11 student-athlete, she was Canada’s top player at the FIBA Americas girls’ U16 championship in the summer.
A 6-3 forward, Prosper, 16, was the Americas championship leading scorer with an 18.6-point average, No. 3 in rebounds at 10.6 a game, and No. 7 in assists at three a game. She registered double-doubles in the quarter-final and semi-final wins for Canada and added 13 points and five rebounds in a silver-medal effort in the final.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 “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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