Being a varsity athlete is a special experience, one that is important to look back and reflect on once finishing your time at university.
For Mackenzie Morrison, no time is better than now. The 6-6 forward for the men's basketball team has just come off a personal best season in his fifth-and-final year with the Gee-Gees, and is now turning his attention to finishing school. He will graduate this April with a degree in Marketing. With graduation around the corner, he has taken some time to sit down and reflect on his life in basketball, his career as a Gee-Gee, and what his next steps in life are.
For Mackenzie, it begins with an average entrance into the sport. Growing up, he was a multi-sport child, particularly focusing on baseball. Around 12 years old, he eventually lost interest in baseball and picked up another, basketball. "I kind of picked it randomly," Morrison remarked. "I just thought, 'lets play basketball', and I tried it out, and I loved it."
As he continued playing, he enjoying every minute of it. As he began high school, Morrison says he 'really dialed in on it' because he realized he was talented enough that he could aim to play at the university level.
The Barrie, Ont. native took his development more seriously and was ambitious enough to move to Connecticut to play prep basketball in his senior year. He enrolled at the Salisbury School, allowing him to play in a competitive environment as he turned his attention to American schools.
Pursuing basketball in the states, many Canadian schools dropped their own pursuit of him, and Morrison noticed less and less contact coming from Canadian coaches. Except for one.
"Coach (James Derouin) basically kept texting me." Morrison remembers that despite hoping to play Div. I in the states, Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin kept in contact with him just in case. "He was the only coach that continued to talk to me even when I shut everyone else out, so I felt like he was the one that wanted me the most."
Morrison packed his things and came back to Canada to become a Gee-Gee. He joined the men's basketball program in 2014, the season after they won the Wilson Cup and a National Silver Medal. The team he came into included talented players like Mike L'Africain, and Johnny Berhanemeskel, so he immediately noticed the different standards and skillset that is seen at the next level.
"I came to a team with such a family-oriented environment that I instantly felt like part of the team – the transition was that as soon as I got here, I was welcomed with opened arms."
His rookie year didn't see him play much, but he learned a lot. Not just about basketball but about what it means to be a Gee-Gee. He confidently attributes his first-year campaign to why now, five years later, he has been a leader for this team.
"Me and Brandon Robinson, my fellow fifth-year senior, have always talked about that at Ottawa, we've always had each other's backs, one hundred percent. That's what made us both fall in love with the program."
The family mentality he was exposed to in his first season is something he's always thought about throughout his career and as he stepped into a leadership role. He and his fellow vet, Robinson, wanted to make sure they kept that culture intact.
"We wanted to ensure that culture never went away. One thing you can always say about Gee-Gees basketball, is whether we're on a high as one of the best teams in the country, or going through a rebuild, no matter what, that culture never goes away."
Morrison knows that that his experience with the Gee-Gees has given him an edge in life as he finishes his time in school and enters the work force.
"One thing that I've learned heading into the job market, is communication, teamwork, these qualities are all transferable into anything I do after this."
Confident that his time as a Gee-Gee will help him find a job in his field of marketing, Morrison plans on forging his future career here in Ottawa. He also mentioned that though his attention will turn to getting his foot in the door somewhere and finding a job, he won't soon forget about the Gee-Gees and he is going to help out with Coach Derouin wherever he can.
"Coach has done so much for me over the past five years, and now he is turning away from being my coach, to being a close friend."
Going into alumni life, Morrison knows he will take his experiences with him where ever he goes, especially his most cherished moment with the Garnet and Grey.
"I would have to say my favourite moment as a Gee-Gee was my second year, when we won Capital Hoops."
The rivalry game, played against Carleton in front of 10,000 people at the Canadian Tire Centre, saw starter Caleb Agada injured, meaning that a young Morrison had to step in to start.
"To start at Capital Hoops, to get that win, and contribute to it was special. I just remember when the buzzer went off, I was trying to act cool, calm, like I had been there before."
The calm act was short lived as the Ottawa fans stormed the court after the win.
"I was like 'nope, I haven't been here before, and I'm going to enjoy this moment', and it just felt like the whole school was jumping around the court. It was a surreal experience."
"That's the moment I'll never forget."