UOIT men’s basketball team scores its first player

UOIT men's basketball assistant coach Emil O'Neill (left) and head coach Greg Francis (right) welcome Graddy Kanku as the first player to sign with the new program. Photo credit: UOIT Athletics

Graddy Kanku is excited to bring his playmaking skills to Oshawa after signing up as the first player of the UOIT Ridgebacks men’s basketball team.

Both the men’s and women’s teams are recruiting players, filling their rosters, as they prepare to start their first season in Ontario University Athletics basketball play this fall.

Kanku’s interest in basketball began when he was 12-years-old. When asked if basketball runs in the family, Kanku chuckled.

“My mom says she used to play…but I don’t believe that,” he jokes.

Since then, Kanku has been provided many basketball memorable opportunities such as travelling to Boston, New York and Texas.

The Montreal-born Kanku was also part of Ottawa’s Canada Topflight Academy (CTA) in 2016-17. Ironically, Jade Lyons, the first recruit for the Ridgebacks women’s basketball team, was also part of the CTA.

Although Kanku has plenty of achievements in his career so far, he says he still has a lot more potential to unlock. He hopes to do so when he plays as a Ridgeback.

Other schools were interested in signing Kanku, including Carleton University, the Canadian champions for six consecutive years between 2011 and 2017.

Yet, the decision to sign at UOIT was easy for Kanku as he says the tipping point was his connection with one of the Ridgebacks’ coaches.

“My assistant coach, Emil O’Neill, he’s close with (Kanku)…and so he was the one that sort of connected us…and it’s been very good since,” says head coach, Greg Francis.

Francis says Kanku, a 6-foot-4 guard is talented, athletic, knows the game well and has a competitive nature.

“I think what will set him apart from other players is just how committed he is and how hard he wants to work to get better and make our team better,” says Francis.

Francis says he’s excited about building a new team but unless potential recruits can see the vision he has for the program, it’s difficult for them to commit. Some of the players Francis has spoken to are seeing that vision and are ready to get to work.

UOIT’s director of athletics, Scott Barker, says whenever something is new, there’s unfamiliar territory.

“I think that first year just ‘get your feet wet’ is in general, probably the biggest hurdle,” says Barker. “There’s so many pieces that go into that.”

Kanku’s biggest hope for the first year of Ridgebacks’ basketball is establishing a good connection amongst the players.

“I hope that we can have a good chemistry,” says Kanku. “I think if we have chemistry from the get-go and keep bonding, I think that’ll help us strive for a couple of years.”

Francis has the same goal for the team’s first year and says while he doesn’t want to base the inaugural season strictly on results, believes a strong bond can help a new team possibly beat teams who have been together longer.

“How successful we can be will definitely be on…how much these players come together and start playing for each other,” says Francis.