Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Luke & Jean-Luc ‘package’ will carry their quick connection on to U Sports basketball

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By Dan Plouffe

From the first time they shook hands and exchanged names, Luke and Jean-Luc were destined to be a perpetual pair.

Luke Leger and Jean-Luc Cubahiro spent just one year together at Louis-Riel high school, but they quickly gelled on and off the court, and soon they will both be headed to Algoma University to play U Sports basketball for the Thunderbirds.

“The connection between me and Jean-Luc developed right away,” recounts Leger, who plays the role of shooting guard, while Cubahiro is the big man.

“He scores a lot in the paint but can shoot as well,” explains Leger. “I shoot a lot, I grab rebounds and I make lots of nice passes to him.”

Both players got somewhat late starts in the sport. Leger began playing in middle school, when he first joined Louis-Riel, while Cubahiro only began playing organized basketball in high school.

“Luke was one of the friends who really helped me settle in here,” signals Cubahiro, who transferred to Louis-Riel to join the school’s boys’ basketball academy for his senior season, so that he could train daily in a high-performance environment, after struggling to find gym time in Ottawa’s west end.

“Luke wanted to make sure I felt comfortable with the team,” adds the 6’6” centre/wing-man. “He’d check-in with me now and then, and I really appreciated that.”

Luke Leger. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Leger had previously been in touch with coaches at Algoma about possibly playing for the Thunderbirds, and mentioned to them that he had a new teammate with potential to play at the university level as well. As Leger and Cubahiro’s connection grew and they exchanged ideas on post-secondary studies and sports, they wound up presenting themselves as a package deal.

“We were really tight all year long,” Leger underlines. “We talk a lot about basketball, but we also talk a lot about other things, like our courses and our families. We’re really close friends, and I couldn’t ask for anyone better to come to Algoma with me.”

The pair made a three-day trip together to visit Algoma. Cubahiro says he sensed a good team spirit and friendships among the Thunderbirds, just like he experienced at Louis-Riel, and that helped cement his decision to move nine hours west to Sault Ste. Marie.

“I want to make new friends there too, but I think it’ll definitely help having someone there that I already share some history with,” Cubahiro indicates. “When I won’t have my family right next to me, he’s a friend I can count on if I’ve got any problems. I know he’ll be there for me.”

The Rebelles teammates hope to be roommates at Algoma. Leger says time spent together as a team while on road trips to the Toronto area provided some of his favourite memories from Louis-Riel.

“It was so much fun,” notes Leger, while tipping his hat to coaches Vincent Duford and Joshua Caissie for crafting such a positive team culture. “On the court, off the court, these guys are my friends, they’re like family.”

Competing in their first year on the National Senior Circuit, the Rebelles turned many heads by finishing eighth of 46 teams in the regular season points standings with an 8-4 record, including several wins over well-known Toronto prep programs. Louis-Riel went 2-1 in pool play during the Circuit’s championship weekend, but the loss to the eventual champions from Simcoe United kept them from advancing to the finals.

Jean-Luc Cubahiro. Photo: Dan Plouffe

“Even though our season didn’t end quite the way we wanted, I just loved how everyone connected so well,” Cubahiro reflects. “We really enjoyed the last moments together. We were all close and together. It was such a good energy. And the coaches were there to encourage us: ‘Don’t worry about it. Next year’s going to be great.’”

Leger and Cubahiro are two of many Rebelles graduating from the school’s sports-études program who will be moving on to play varsity sports in the fall. The list includes hockey players Mariève Roussel (Laurier) and Annika Lafrenière (Bishop’s), alpine skier Emma Meunier-Carpentier (Calgary), soccer player Nathan Labillois (Moncton), girls’ basketball academy player Maya Charles (Carleton) and Leger/Cubahiro boys’ basketball teammates Stéphane Dang (CÉGEP Heritage), Tyrell Wallace (prep school in North Carolina), and Abdoul Sorne and Beni Kabongo (both Collège La Cité).

“I’m so excited for everyone to have these opportunities. I hope everything goes well and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with them next year,” states Leger, while saluting his peers for their role in his success.

“Everyone in the gym wants to play at the next level, they want to improve in their sports and get good marks at school. We all share that mentality,” he adds. “We want to get better every day, and I want to help everyone else get better too.

“Training in the weightroom together – that’s the kind of thing that I cherish most.”

Louis-Riel boys’ basketball academy training. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Cubahiro, who enjoys math, plans to study finance and economics at Algoma, while Leger will major in psychology and minor in economics. Though those disciplines seem somewhat unrelated, Leger may like to marry them and one day establish a sports mental performance business, inspired in part by his own journey in basketball.

With his late start in basketball, Leger didn’t get much playing time with his already-established club team early on, and he was really hard on himself up to Grade 10. But he turned a corner once he started training more intensely with the Louis-Riel academy, and slowly but surely, he earned more court time and got the chance to prove himself.

Cubahiro shares a similar story. He says that following a schedule at Louis-Riel that mirrors what he’ll experience at Algoma makes him feel well-prepared for next year, but that self-confidence is the biggest tool he acquired.

“I really started to see my own potential and to believe that my dream to play at university was possible,” highlights Cubahiro, who was grateful for the warm welcome he received from his teammates, coaches and school staff at Louis-Riel.

“Last year, I didn’t even know where I was going to go after school. This year, the team was here for me all the time. They guided me towards my future, so a big thank you to all of them.”

Read More in our 2024 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at: OttawaSportsPages.ca/Ottawa-High-School-Best-2024

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