After a strong professional debut season with Tartu Rock in Estonia, Venky Jois has signed a 2-year deal in Croatia with Vrijednosnice Osijek.
In speaking exclusively with The Pick and Roll, Jois was looking forward to a new challenge in Croatia after playing behind some Estonian legends at Tartu last season.
"It is a step up in relation to the quality of the league, explained Jois. "It will be awesome playing against some big-time teams in what will be a big change of scenery. I am expecting to be on the floor and being one of the main guys in what is a stronger league."
Tartu took on a herculean schedule last season, playing in the Basketball Champions League, FIBA Europe Cup and Baltic Leagues in addition to the Estonian national league. The 202cm forward posted 7 points and 12 rebounds in four Basketball Champions League games, 8.3 points and 8.3 rebounds across three FIBA Europe Cup games, and 3.6 points with 3.9 rebounds in eight Baltic League games. Back in the Estonian national league, he averaged 8.5 points and 7.4 rebounds across 31 games.
Jois explained that playing with one of the best teams in Estonia and having the chance to play in a number of intercontinental leagues was an invaluable experience.
"Last season was a bit up and down for me personally," said Jois. "In the first 2-3 months there was a lot of basketball. Unfortunately once we got bounced out of the FIBA Europe Cup but in the local league we only lost a couple of games all season.
"Overall, the strength of the league, apart from the top two or so teams, was quite poor. The top two teams had way bigger budgets and there was no real comparison between those and the fifth placed team as an example."
Having tasted finals in his first season as a pro, Jois carries high expectations for the season ahead with his new team which finished in seventh place - mid-table - last season.
"Osijek is certainly a team on the rise after finishing mid-table last season," explained Jois. "This time around I will be a bit more of a focal point. Last season I was playing on a side with a lot of vets, and now hopefully I can take a bit more of a lead role, especially on offense.
"Being able to demonstrate my abilities a little bit more, especially against the teams playing in the higher-level intercontinental leagues, is something I am looking forward to. It is a good opportunity to showcase myself."
After graduating from Eastern Washington following a standout collegiate career, Jois worked out for the Sacramento Kings as he pursued his NBA ambitions. While those aspirations remain, Jois understood what he still has to work on if he is to continue improving and working towards his goal.
"There are some things in my game, that once they click, things are going to be a lot different," said Jois. "I still have a lot to prove. I don’t want to be in the shadows playing behind anyone…not getting lost in the crowd. Now I am in a better position, and have an opportunity to demonstrate what I can do.
"I know I have to get past and overcome the shortcomings in my game….it is a work in progress for me. I want to improve as a player, and there is a still a way to go for me. I will continue to demonstrate those strengths, but people will see that I have also worked hard in overcoming the areas I needed to improve in."
One of those areas is free throw shooting and extending his range to beyond the three-point arc. While he has shown he can in fact make his shots from the charity stripe, he has often been unreliable, experiencing droughts. While at both Eastern Washington and at Tartu, Jois was rarely afforded the opportunity to shoot from the perimeter. Both are areas he is looking to remedy this coming season.
A dominant interior player who boasts an ability to finish above the rim, Jois is also a very strong rebounder and defensive player with an ability to block shots, often taking on taller opponents with great success. Jois also showed an ability to deliver on the big stage, guiding the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 where he playing strongly against Georgetown, delivering 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in a gallant defeat.
During the European off-season, Jois spent time with Melbourne United, suiting up in an exhibition game against China. He joins Osijek just a season after fellow Australian Jonathon Mines suited up for the Croatian side (not re-signed). Jois flies out to join his new team on Monday, 14 August.