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From Tigers to Stingers and back

Xavier Ochu represented Dalhousie University in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) this past summer.

Ochu was one of two Dal Tigers drafted in 2020 by CEBL. (Photo by Edmonton Stingers)

Ochu, a fourth-year guard from Milton, Ont., was drafted by the Edmonton Stingers in the third round (18th overall) of the CEBL U Sports Draft. His longtime Dal teammate Sascha Kappos was also picked by Edmonton, going in the first round (fourth overall).

Ochu played against strong competition in U Sports, but the CEBL was another level to experience. He wasn’t able to get much time on the court, but he was able to learn what it takes to play on the professional level.

“Seeing how everyone takes care of their bodies and their approach to the game was definitely helpful for my game,” Ochu said. “It gave me a head start for the future.”

Playing during COVID-19

The CEBL season was almost cancelled because of COVID-19, but the league created a bubble-like environment to host the summer’s games. The season took place in St. Catharines, Ont.

Every team arrived at facilities and hotels around St. Catharines’s arena, the Meridian Centre. Teams’ players and staff quarantined and were tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of training camps and playing.

The smooth transition allowed everyone to start training camp easily. But the restrictions didn’t ease after the quarantine phase. Everyone was required to stay in their hotel rooms as much as possible to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Everyone did a good job of self-isolating and social distancing,” said Ochu.

Learning process

Once the training camp began, players followed a daily plan.

The Stingers practiced first and then had weight training to maintain body strength and conditioning. In between and after training sessions, players had their own recovery processes.

Ochu watched and learned how each player treated their bodies.

“It was a big wake-up call,” Ochu said. “These guys are only a couple of years older than me and they treat their bodies like gold.”

At the same time, Ochu took advantage of his position with the team. The Stingers’ head coach Jermaine Small brought Ochu in to play defence, hustle and hit shots.

“In practices, [Small] wanted me to guard Xavier Moon, our starting point guard,” Ochu said. “He wanted me to get that experience.”

Ochu worked with the best of the best in the CEBL this past summer as the Stingers won the league. That win allowed him to better understand what it takes to thrive at the professional level of basketball.

While he is still with the Dalhousie Tigers, Ochu has an opportunity to work on the necessary skill sets needed to improve as a basketball player. Endurance and conditioning can be the X factor in continuing to improve as a player in the future. It can earn a chance to get more playing time.

“Just training, working, drilling that hard and trying to implement those things as much as I can in practices, so when I get out onto the floor, I’m ready to go,” said Ochu.

Xavier Ochu celebrates the Edmonton Stingers win at the 2020 Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) Championship. With a season of professional basketball under his belt, Ochu returned to Dalhousie this season. (Photo by Edmonton Stingers)

Student athlete in the CEBL

There are previous generations of U Sports stars competing in the CEBL. At the same time, current stars get an opportunity to showcase their talent and earn scholarships.

Ochu aspires to become a professional basketball player one day, but he won’t let it take away from his education. He earned scholarship money towards his management studies at Dalhousie through his CEBL experience.

“They provide money for U Sports players and put it directly toward tuitions,” Ochu said.

For many of these players, the goal is to become professional basketball players. The CEBL continues to encourage U Sports talent to become Canada’s future in aspects of the sport and in life.

Correction: This article initially stated that Xavier Ochu was an arts student. He is in fact a management student. The Gazette apologizes for this error.

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