Ontario Tech Ridgebacks Looking for Success in Inaugural OUA Season

Francis, Greg
Greg Francis is the first men’s basketball coach for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks, and he has begun to assemble himself a talented roster ahead of their OUA debut. (Source: Durham Region News) (Header: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks)

OSHAWA, Ont. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks ahead of their inaugural season.

The 2019-20 season marks an exciting time for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks, Not only did they launch a re-brand from their UOIT days, they will also take to the hardwood for the first time. The Ridgebacks are getting set to compete in the OUA for men’s and women’s basketball for the first time, pushing league membership to 18 teams.

With the league now home to 18 programs, the conference has gone back to three divisions with six teams apiece. The Ridgebacks will be in the East Division with the likes of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton Ravens, Queen’s Gaels, Nipissing Lakers, and Laurentian Voyageurs.

Here’s how the Ridgebacks are shaping up ahead of their inaugural season in the OUA.

Head Coach

The Ridgebacks named Greg Francis their first Head Coach in program history back on August 23rd, 2018, and he’s been hard at work ever since. Francis brings with him a lengthy resume, one that includes previous coaching positions across the U Sports landscape, while his playing experience has some National Team flare to it.

Most recently, Francis has served as the Men’s High Performance Manager and Technical Director with Canada Basketball. Francis assisted with development programs while establishing and implementing target models.

Francis was also part of the 2017 Gold Medal winning team at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup.

In terms of his Head Coaching experience, Francis has occupied two previous positions across U Sports. He served as the Head Coach of the Alberta Golden Bears from 2009 through to 2012. From there, Francis was the Head Coach of the Waterloo Warriors from 2013 to 2015.

Being familiar with the OUA should help Francis transition into his new role rather easily.

On the court, Francis played for Team Canada at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In addition to his coaching experience, Francis brings with him a strong resume in terms of playing experience, and both will work hand-in-hand as he looks to grow the Ridgebacks program from the ground up.

Incoming Talent

On the court, Coach Francis and his staff have added a mix of experience and talent to their first roster. A mix of transfer players with post-secondary experience and true freshmen fill out the first eight spots on the roster. They have guys with experience, but they also have players with their share of talent.

Here’s a look at the eight players Francis has added thus far.

Originally from Montreal, guard Graddy Kanku (Ottawa, Ont.) will go down in history as the first player to commit to the Ridgebacks and their men’s basketball program. The 6’4” guard adds size to the back court and he packs a punch on offense. Back in 2016-17 in the National Preparatory Association (NPA) title game, Kanku posted 29 points for Canada Topflight Academy.

From there, Francis went to the West Coast for his second recruit, landing wing Roy Anku (Edmonton, Alta.). Most recently, Anku played for the Planet Athlete Academy in Tempe, Arizona, where he averaged 15 points and seven assists per contest. The 6’3” guard adds offense and a sense of leadership to the inaugural roster.

In terms of transfer players, Francis added one of the OCAA’s brightest stars from last season. Mohamed Omar (Ottawa, Ont.) comes to the Ridgebacks after a sensational first season with the St, Lawrence Vikings in 2018-19. Omar averaged 15.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 34.5% from the field and 30.8% from three-point range.

Omar - Hussein
Mohamed Omar (left) and Nelly Hussein are two of eight players who have committed to the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks ahead of their inaugural season in the OUA. (Source: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks)

Omar recorded 15 games with double-digit points last season, five of which saw him top the 20-point mark. For his efforts, he was named the St. Lawrence College Rookie of the Year and he was named to the OCAA All-Rookie Team.

Guard Nelly Hussein (Ottawa, Ont.) will be a true freshman this season in the OUA. A member of the Ottawa Elite program in the Canadian Youth Basketball League (CYBL), Hussein is highly regarded across the province of Ontario, having been coached by some of the best in the region.

Francis added a second recruit from the West Coast when forward Christopher Ogie (Morinville, Alta.) committed to the Ridgebacks. The 6’5” wing brings a ton of versatility to the lineup this season, as he can play either shooting guard, small forward, or power forward.

Ogie is a high energy player who has a high motor. With Halifax Prep of the NPA, Ogie averaged 4.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season while helping the team post an 8-4 record.

Forward Amara Ba (Montreal, Que.) brings a ton of length to the roster, and he gives Francis and his staff a good player on the perimeter. The 6’8” forward comes to Ontario Tech from the Canada Topflight Academy.

Rounding out the Ridgebacks’ recruiting class are two more transfer players, one each from the OCAA and RSEQ who will bring with them a wealth of talent and experience in 2019-20.

Forward Lenda Diarra (Longueuil, Que.) comes to Ontario Tech after playing last season with the Champlain – St. Lambert Cavaliers in the RSEQ. The 6’7” forward brings size and strength to the front court rotation. Last season, he averaged 5.0 points per contest on 31.3% shooting from the floor over 13 appearances. Diarra was key in helping the Cavaliers advancing to the RSEQ semifinals last season.

Rounding out the recruiting class for the Ridgebacks thus far is 6’5” forward Jesus Ilonga (Montreal, Que.). Back in the 2017-18 season, Ilonga posted 6.6 points per game while shooting 31.7% from the field and 65.2% from the free throw line for the La Cite Coyotes in the OCAA. Ilonga will enter his third season of eligibility in 2019-20, and will be looked upon to be a leader with the new program while bringing a high level of energy to the floor on a nightly basis.

Early on, the Ridgebacks have assembled a roster that has a mix of experience and youth, but they all bring something different to the table. They have some size up front while possessing some high-scoring guards in the back court. Francis’ ability to land high quality transfers from the CCAA ranks bodes well for the future of the program on the recruiting trail.

The Ridgebacks have assembled themselves a strong roster ahead of their inaugural season. With more players still on the horizon, the Ridgebacks have to be excited with the direction their program is heading despite having yet to play a game.

The 2019-20 season gets underway for Ontario Tech on October 25th when they head on the road to take on Laurentian. Their regular season home opener falls on Sunday, November 3rd when Queen’s rolls into town. Before that, the Ridgebacks have a total of five exhibition games on tap to get them ready for the season.

It’s tough to put together any sort of expectations for a program in their inaugural season. However, given the roster that they’ve assembled thus far and the coaching staff, expect the Ridgebacks to be competitive from the beginning and hit the ground running in the OUA.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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