By Desmond Anuku
The hometown trio of Maxime Boursiquot, Thomas Scrubb and coach James Derouin helped push the Ottawa Blackjacks to the top of the Canadian Elite Basketball League standings for a good chunk of the season, and now they have chance to qualify for the club’s fourth consecutive final four.
Ottawa will host the Scarborough Shooting Stars at 7 p.m. on Sunday at TD Place in the Eastern conference semi-final, with the winner advancing to the CEBL’s championship weekend in Vancouver Aug. 11-13.
The Blackjacks have made the final four every year since they joined the league in 2020. This season, they won eight games in a row before dropping their final three to end the regular season 12-8.
The CEBL has been exceptionally evenly-matched this season – the best record in the 10-team summer league was 13-7 and the worst was 7-13.
“The last few games haven’t been the result we wanted, but it’s obviously been a pretty good season overall,” signals Boursiquot. “I think guys are playing well, playing with confidence and playing together, so I think we just need to put (the losses) behind us and really go back to the team we’ve been for most of the season.”
Boursiquot’s path into pro basketball has been nothing close to straight. The Immaculata Catholic High School grad starred for multiple local clubs including the Ottawa Shooting Stars before earning the chance to play NCAA basketball for Northeastern University.
COVID interrupted his college career, so Boursiquot returned home and joined the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and now continues to play for the Gee-Gees’ Derouin in the summer with the Blackjacks. He also plays pro in Germany.
Along the way, Boursiquot’s had numerous surgeries, including several procedures to correct a leg length discrepancy that caused him to dislocate his femur. That kept him from growing as tall as anticipated – he stands 6’5″ tall but has the wingspan of a 6’11” player – and made him a little undersized for the centre position he grew up playing.
“Life will throw everything at you,” Boursiquot says with a smile and his trademark positive attitude. “How you respond to everything that happens in life will determine what you get out of it.”
Derouin says Boursiquot’s determination and skills always shine through regardless of his setbacks.
“I’ve seen that internal struggle, the mental struggle,” highlights Derouin, who’s tried to transition Boursiquot into a forward role instead of centre. “When he came to us in Ottawa, I was like, ‘I need you to shoot three,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I want to shoot the three.’
“But then he would go out there and he would pump fake and he wouldn’t shoot the three.”
Boursiquot’s confidence has since grown, and this season he shot an impressive 47.2% from beyond the arc. Boursiquot’s “5-man instincts” are still there, Derouin adds, but he’s cemented himself as one of the league’s premier defenders thanks to that playing style.
“A lot of aggression, a lot of tenacity, a lot of energy” is what Boursiquot says he always wants to bring to the court.
“Sometimes people think it’s summer league, so they want to play pretty, they don’t want to put their bodies on the line,” he adds. “But God gave me this body to use, so I’m gonna use it to the full extent. I don’t like to play lightly. I don’t like to take things for granted.”
Scrubb, meanwhile, grew up in Vancouver but has since made Ottawa home. The 6’8″ guard spent more and more time in the nation’s capital each summer while starring with the Carleton University Ravens, and then decided to settle here.
Scrubb is married to fellow Ravens national champ Catherine Traer, who’s from Orleans. He’s spent a good chunk of his summer chasing their two-year-old around the backyard and tending to their three-month-old.
“We’ve just learned to adjust and kind of function off less sleep,” smiles Scrubb, whose family joins him for the bulk of the year in northwestern Spain, where he plays professionally for Monbus Obradoiro.
“It’s the ideal job and it’s nice to get paid to play basketball, so that I just want to play as long as possible,” adds Scrubb, who was an original Blackjack in 2020. “Playing professional basketball in Ottawa is a pretty cool opportunity that wasn’t available when I first started my pro career.”
Scrubb may not play in the Blackjacks’ playoff game on Sunday. That’s because he was invited to attend Team Canada’s camp from Aug. 1-6 in Toronto in preparation for the FIBA World Cup. If selected, Scrubb would then leave for exhibition games in Europe prior to the Aug. 25-Sept. 10 World Cup in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
“I hope that I make the team,” Scrubb signals, “but if not, there are a lot of great players on the trials roster, so I think whoever’s on the final team is going to do really well.”
Derouin is operating under the assumption that “of course he’s making the national team.”
He’s watched Scrubb evolve since he was “a baby deer out there – all arms and legs” as a high schooler in Vancouver, while he was an assistant coach at UBC. Scrubb then became a frustrating rival with Ravens once Derouin took the helm of the Gee-Gees – “we joke about that now,” he highlights – and is now a consistent and versatile player who hits clutch shots and is the team’s best defender.
“Man, he’s so good. Like, I don’t think people understand just how good he is,” Derouin underlines – maybe not “conventionally good” like some other natural talents, “but from a coach’s standpoint, he’s incredible. He’s absolutely incredible to watch.”
Derouin says that having local players in the lineup is always important to the Blackjacks and helps further build community connections with Ottawa clubs and universities.
“It’s huge,” he indicates. “There’s a different energy in the building for sure when there’s a couple of local guys on the team.”
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.