Johnny Berhanemeskel Returns to Ottawa Stage, But BlackJacks Lose Fourth Consecutive

“I wish the result was different, but it’s nice to put on the jersey and hear the fans. I hope that every professional can experience this, because it is priceless’

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Growlers 94, Blackjacks 80

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In a perfect world, Johnny Berhanemeskel would have wanted to celebrate the start of his third draft with the Ottawa BlackJacks with a win.

But winning or losing, the chance to play professional basketball at home, in front of friends and family, is not something he will ever take for granted.

“I wish the result was different (Tuesday),” he said of the BlackJacks’ shoddy, disjointed efforts in a 94-80 loss to the Newfoundland Growlers at TD Place.

“But it’s nice to put on the jersey and hear the fans. I hope every professional gets to experience this, because it’s priceless; the feeling and thrill I get when I get on the field, seeing people I grew up with, people I trained with when I was younger and my parents.”

Winning the CEBL Championship in Ottawa would be the perfect scenario for Berhanemeskel, who grew up here and played with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees before embarking on the professional career in which he played in France’s first division last winter and spring. .

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But while the BlackJacks will have automatic access to the final four as they will host the August 12-14 tournament, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The BlackJacks have now lost their last four games, giving them a 5-12 record, eighth out of 10 teams in the CEBL. The latest loss, to a Growlers team last dead with a 3-13 record, was a demonstration of poor shooting, flawed defense and overall inconsistency.

Luckily for the BlackJacks, the bizarre playoff format means they are guaranteed a semifinal spot and only need to win two playoff games to claim the title.

Berhanemeskel, who finished with 10 points, says all of the above changes the approach to the end of the season, including Sunday’s matinee at TD Place against league-leader Hamilton Honey Badgers.

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“I think it’s kind of right and I’d be lying if I said otherwise, but at the same time it’s up to us to grow out of these losses, from an experience like (Tuesday),” he said. “You definitely have to have a short term memory in any sport, but especially with this unique opportunity because it’s two matches with a fast turnaround and if you come together at the right time you can beat anyone in this league.”

Johnny Berhanemeskel returned to the BlackJacks on Tuesday night to play in front of a home crowd in Ottawa, but the BlackJacks lost their fourth game in a row to the Newfoundland Growlers
Johnny Berhanemeskel returned to the BlackJacks on Tuesday night to play in front of a home crowd in Ottawa, but the BlackJacks lost their fourth game in a row to the Newfoundland Growlers Photo by Greg Mason /Ottawa Blackjacks

BlackJacks coach James Derouin was not exactly in a happy mood after the defeat. When asked about his general impression of the game, he studied the match stats for 10 seconds before answering.

“I thought it was, uh… we weren’t doing anything right,” he said. “Our attack, of course, we shot the ball (terrible), we went 4-for-25 (on three-point attempts), we got an outrebound and we conceded 94 points. I don’t think anyone played particularly well.”

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After finishing a three-game road trip in Victoria on Sunday, Derouin believes jet lag contributed to the poor display. Berhanemeskel was one of many newcomers thrown into the mix, but the whole team seemed out of sync.

“The new guys weren’t sharp and the guys who were out with us and playing well didn’t look good at all.”

It has been a frustrating season for the BlackJacks from the start. After a 1-7 start, they thought they had turned a corner in late June and early July, only to slide back into their current slide.

The BlackJacks actually opened the game with a 7-0 run, but the shooting turned cold and the Growlers led 27-20 after the first quarter.

The BlackJacks climbed back to a 44-44 tie at half time, but in the fourth quarter the Growlers were the much sharper club and pulled away.

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Walt Lemon Jr., who led the BlackJacks by 21 points, couldn’t hide his frustration at the latest loss.

“They made their shots in bunches, when it counted and we couldn’t make stops and we just fell apart,” he said.

“We should be proud of our defense. I think for the most part we get too fixated on offense and worry about getting shots and keep scoring. If we get stops we will be a difficult team to guard , but it starts with defense. We have to get selfish in defense.”

While there is a playoff berth for the BlackJacks, that was not where his thoughts were after the game.

“Be that as it may, we have a chance to win a championship regardless of the record,” he said. “But right now I don’t think anyone, well, me, cares about that. I don’t like losing, especially how we lose. I have a problem with that.”

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