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Detailing the chaos preceding Venky Jois’ NBL return
Venky Jois' calendar year has seen the Melbourne native travel from Memphis, to Serbia, to Cairns. Daniel recounts what was a frenzied period for the 6'8 power forward.
For Venky Jois, it’s been a whirlwind six months. To say the least.
In this calendar year alone, Jois traded life by the Mississippi River for a small manufacturing town just south of the Balkans before returning for an NBL homecoming in Far North Queensland - a cross-continental journey equalling a figure just shy of 23,000 kilometres.
Directly preceding his arrival on Australian shores was the short-lived stint with Serbian League stragglers KK Pirot, an experience that remarkably preserves reputable sentiment in Jois’ memory.
“I think we had an idea of what going to Pirot would be like… get to come in, show what I can do, kick them in the league, and since it was a bottom team club have a lot of opportunity and get to go crazy,” Jois told The Pick and Roll in an April conversation.
“But instead of that happening, [and] I don’t want to trash the team… but it essentially ended up being just them throwing games… and a whole bunch of nonsense.”
Jois details the match-fixing culture rampant within the Serbian top-flight, whereby starters would be benched the duration of quarters or halves to erase advantageous margins and suffer defeats in, seemingly, the most inconceivable fashion. He specifies an outing where his side entered the third quarter with a helpful 10 point lead, not least helped by a 16 point, 7 rebound contribution from Pirot’s Australian. He explained he was then benched for the duration of the second half, the rest of the starting unit in accompaniment for the fourth quarter, for his team to eventually lose by the narrowest of margins in overtime.
It’s a practice that has put many domestic clubs, including Pirot, under fire in the Serbian League, and was ultimately a situation that Jois wished for no involvement in.
“I was put into a position where politics was a part of what was going on and there was just no benefit for me to be a part of that. There’s no reason for me to play half a game, put up average stats… so we ended up leaving early.”
The other bunch of nonsense? As Jois revealed, match-fixing was not the only complication had with his former employers.
“They stopped paying us. We didn’t really get any of our money, we got the first month’s salary and that was all really.”
In just seven games in southeast Serbia, Jois averaged 10 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals in 20.6 minutes each outing. While the Eastern Washington alum contends it was nothing special, he shot 67 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three-point territory (albeit in a small sample size) to display the glimpses of a rebranded skillset tailored for the next chapter of his career.
“It’s a good thing in a sense that I now have some current film of me stepping out, hitting some pick and pop threes, I have some film of me driving to the basket and a lot of things that were shown earlier in my career. The rebrand is definitely as a versatile 4, then can guard 1 through 5, that can guard the basket, that can play off whoever and be successful in that role.”
Having now shuffled into a Cairns Taipans outfit failing to meet expectations in the NBL, Jois’ reinvention has been put somewhat on hold, with the former Dandenong Rangers junior inserted into a side reeling from the abrupt departure of talisman Cam Oliver.
But while transitioning between frontcourt slots for Mike Kelly, Jois has found a significant role for the league’s cellar-dwellers, where he has been afforded over 19 minutes in three games. On his second game back in Australia, Jois contributed 12 points, 8 rebounds and one nasty crossover on an unsuspecting Mike Karena.
It’s a performance that Jois feels he will only surpass once he grows further settled in the Sunshine State.
“That game was two training sessions in and fresh off hotel quarantine, so hopefully I won’t be asking for a sub like I was, and I can be fully fit and fully in-form. That will only help us win more basketball games because it shows the energy that we are sort of lacking at the moment, just with it being a long season.”
But a return to mainstream Australian view is more than something of a sentimental reunion for the 27 year old. With the exception of a three-month, uneventful stint with hometown club Melbourne United two years ago, Jois has been tucked away in the far-flung corners of the globe since 2016, far away from the national broadcaster’s view of an evolving three-point shot and slashing game that has extended his capabilities far beyond that of a rim-runner and a spark plug.
“I think I do have a perception of the type of player I am here, and I wouldn’t like it to be like that, I don’t think that’s the true value of what I think I can bring to a team. That’s a perception that I have to change of the Australian public.”
It’s a challenge that Jois looks forward to undertaking with a roster committed to a strong finish to an otherwise disappointing season.
“I think that players 1-12… are all guys that can play basketball and I really love that about the NBL. Hopefully even with Cam leaving, I can add aspects to the team and push us across the line.”
While Cairns sit 7-19 and at the base of the NBL standings, Jois feels that his side’s record isn’t truly indicative of the quality they’ve displayed this season. Over 42 per cent of Cairns’ losses have been decided by two possessions or less, displaying an ability to remain in games, but too often failing to close teams out.
“It’s razor-thin margins, a lot of close games. I don’t think our team record really reflects the way this team has competed, and hopefully with me in the lineup, we can get across the line in some of these games.”
And with the whirlwind of a globetrotting fifth professional season finally beginning to calm, it looks that the rebranded Venky Jois is now emerging on the horizon.