Eastern Washington entered the 2013/14 season with high expectations, however the Eagles were not able to fully capitilise on their talent and ultimately ended the season in the middle of the Big Sky Conference standings. Starting conference play slowly the Eagles took time to gel together as a team and untimely injuries all conspired against them. However team Captain and junior forward Venky Jois feels that 2014/15 brings with it new opportunities and a renewed level of optimism.
Damian Arsenis recently caught up with Venky Jois in his hometown of Melbourne to talk through what happened last season, touch on his fellow Australian team-mates and look ahead to the coming season.
Jois can play above the rim - Courtesy Eastern Washington Athletics
Venky Jois experienced a big first year as an Eastern Washington Eagle. In moving to the other side of the world, away from family and friends, he battled through homesickness and came through with flying colours. He averaged an impressive 12.3 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.4 blocks per game in his first year and duly recognised by the Big Sky Conference in being named Freshman Player of the Year.
“Eastern Washington is now my second home,” stated Jois over a quiet coffee in his hometown of Melbourne.
“I was definitely homesick during my first year, however its now my second home. We are a close-knit group. While I still have my good friends back home in Australia, I have developed a new set of friends and groups and am now well and truly settled in."
Jois was pegged as being in the pre-season top 5 Aussie players to watch in all of Division I college hoops last season, and ended in being name The Pick and Roll's Aussie Defensive Player of the Year and All-Aussie Second Team despite sustaining an injury. However the Eagles though finished mid-table in the Big Sky Conference and it is something that team Captain Jois was clearly looking forward to atoning for.
“Last season we did not meet our own expectations. Frustratingly for me I hurt my right wrist just before conference play. While I played through the injury, it really did adversely impact on my shooting.”
Jois would go on to explain that while injuries may have influenced the team’s result last season, it is the ongoing development of the team’s culture and the experience of adversity that is likely to pave the way for success this coming season.
“The talent is better this season. The knowledge of the other teams (in our conference) is better. Even the coaching is better! The chemistry amongst the team is better."
With that in mind, you could sense the excitement and anticipation in his voice. As team Captain, the 6’7” forward was quietly confidence in his team-mates ahead of a season that promises so much. It was becoming evident that he was trying to instill some of the renowned Australian mate-ship and team spirit within the team.
“I hope that our shot selection improves, the communication between each player increases and the support and encouragement from those on the bench is more prevalent. It would be great to get everyone involved as much as possible, and that includes being more proactive and being vocal in supporting your fellow team mates out on the court.”
Courtesy Eastern Washington Athletics
Jois is one of three Australian’s on the Eagles roster this coming season, and he was more than happy to talk up his fellow compatriots. He outlined that Felix Von Hofe, a 6’5” sophomore swingman also from Melbourne, was set to play a bigger role this coming season.
“Felix is one of a few players that by the end of the season had adjusted and really improved his game. He struggled with his shot early on and it affected his confidence. With his increased level of confidence after a strong finish to the year (last year), I am expecting to see him play a lot more. He deserves it as he is always in the gym and is easily one of the hardest workers.”
Daniel Hill is the other from down under on the roster, having played back up minutes in his career to date. With some exceptional talent currently ahead of him in the rotation, Jois asserted that Hill needed grasp the opportunities that presented themselves early in the coming season.
“He (Hill) is likely to once again play some vital back-up minutes, especially when the current starters get into foul trouble. The first 5 or so games of the season should provide an indicator as to how large his role may end up being. This is the year for him to step up.”
While willingly talking up his team and their chances in the upcoming season, Jois was more reluctant to discuss his own game. The well-spoken forward had to be pushed to elicit anything on himself.
“I guess I can say that I have been working on my ball-handling and movement patters during the off-season. I recognize that I need to become more mobile to get to the next level. I have also been lifting in the gym, eating right and taking good care of the body and I’m feeling good and ready for a big season.”
Jois also spoke fondly of his brief stint in the Australia SEABL before heading to college. Whilst appreciative of the opportunity and experienced it provided, he was a definite advocate for choosing the college development pathway that he himself had chosen as there was a big difference between the SEABL and Division I college basketball.
"You get to live and breathe basketball each and every day over here."
"There is nothing like this back in Australia. We regularly get to play in front of 3,000 plus strong crowds, something that you would never get back home in the SEABL. Even the off-season is amazingly intense, with tailored and player specific training programs that only help you get better and quicker. I can't see how I would have improved at the same rate if I had not made the move over."
Injury free and with a big off-season under his belt, Jois is primed for a big year that could even see him in contention for conference player of the year honours. With good size and athleticism, he has demonstrated he can punch above his size with bigger and taller players, however it will be his ability to prove he can guard smaller players that is going to see him attract attention from pro teams over his last 2 years of college.
Reading between the lines, Jois and the Eagles are primed to make waves in the Big Sky Conference this season. Many experts have penciled them in as the pre-season title favourites, and it is sure to be something that Jois is working hard to achieve. Expect to see this Aussie Eagle soar to new heights.
Many of Eastern Washington's games are broadcast live online during the season via the Big Sky Conference website.
Listen to Damian Arsenis on Melbourne's SEN 1116 radio show "The Flag Flyers" on 30 September 2014 talking about the Australian's playing in the Big Sky Conference this coming season (24:36 into the show).
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