By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Louis-Riel Rebelles
Jean-Luc Cubahiro only started playing organized basketball three years ago, and like many budding young players in the city, he quickly found out that getting gym time to practice and play was a big struggle.
But the Grade 12 student found a solution by transferring into the Louis-Riel Boys’ Basketball Academy this school year, and his chance to shine is now here as he and his Rebelles teammates have begun their debut season on the National Senior Circuit with a tip-off tournament this past weekend in Toronto.
“I found I really had the motor for basketball,” recounts the 6′ 6″ centre/wing-man. “I thought the philosophy here at Louis-Riel really suited me well – that we work hard to get better every day – and I really liked how the program is structured, so that’s why I chose to come here.”
That was no small commitment for Cubahiro, who busses to the Gloucester school daily from Ottawa’s west-end. He’s not alone though – the young Academy that spends more time in the gym than any other program in the city has drawn players from many parts of Ottawa, the larger Eastern Ontario region and beyond.
“Here, we have everything an athlete could ask for to get better,” underlines Cubahiro, noting the school has several gymnasiums, a weight training facility and professional strength coach, they practice daily during and after school, and their basketball coaches are always there to answer questions, support and encourage them.
“If you come here with a goal, you’ve got everything you need to develop and get the best out of yourself,” Cubahiro adds. “We get better every day.”
That will be an ongoing theme this season for the rookie Rebelles as they tackle Canada’s premier circuit for high school and preparatory school programs. The team will attend four Senior Circuit tournaments in Toronto leading into March’s national championships.
They’ll also play weekly games in the Ottawa Super League – made up of top clubs, academies and school prep teams – and exhibitions/local tournaments against some of the high school teams that they’ll no longer meet in national capital league play. In total, they’ll likely play between 40-45 games this season.
“It’s the first time we’re playing on the National Senior Circuit, so we weren’t totally sure what to expect, but I know we’ll have some really good competition and it’ll be a great test for our group,” highlights Head Coach Vincent Dufort, who was a perennial conference all-star and four-year captain at McGill University before becoming an assistant coach for the Queen’s Gaels and then joining Louis-Riel.
The 2023-2024 Rebelles troops are a good mix of young players and more experienced leaders. They’ve got a good rebounding presence inside, improved shooting from beyond the arc and intelligent players to organize the team on the floor.
Louis-Riel went 1-2 on the opening weekend, kicking things off with a 78-59 win over Burloak Prep, followed by 89-73 and 101-48 defeats to High 5 Academy and Simcoe United.
“We’ve got a really good group that works hard. You have to be patient when starting a program, but seeing their progress and improvement already is really encouraging for the years ahead,” notes Dufort. “We’re building the base that we want to have in the program and we’ve had some young players with a lot of potential in Grade 9, 10 and 11 who have come and joined us.”
Dufort runs the Academy alongside fellow Louis-Riel teacher and Assistant Coach/Program Director Joshua Caissie. Academic and athletic excellence has long been the pillar of the French public school’s Sports-Study program, which provides an optimal setup to prepare participants for the rigours of being university student-athletes.
“It helps me concentrate at school,” signals point guard/small forward Beni Kabongo. “It’s really a joy to come to school because I know I’m not just going to be studying with pen and paper, I’m also going to be active, I’m going to be working out and playing our favourite sport. I love it.”
The Grade 12 team captain is another who’s fully embraced the idea of getting better every day.
“For the next generation, they’ll see that we’re building something special,” signals Kabongo. “I’m very proud to be part of the beginning.”