Kamloops, BC—It should get a little heated on the Warner Rentals court at the Tournament Capital Centre this weekend. The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack are set to take on the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in Canada West men’s basketball on Friday and Saturday (Nov 4-5).
The last time these two teams met was in March, with the WolfPack winning 72-69 en route to winning their first Canada West silver medal.
But that was last year. They are not resting on their laurels.
Head coach Scott Clark says the preseason went as expected. “We had some turnover with graduating some guys who were key pieces. We have brought in some young guys and with that there is some growing pains. Pretty pleased with how things have come along. It’s a work in progress. But I say that every year. Teams that are going to be good continue to get better as the season goes along. That is what we have to do.”
Clark did some extensive recruiting bringing in a number of top high school players along with two Californians (Derek Rhodes and Maalik Hazziez) who played junior college. “I am quite happy with them. They have fit in quite seamlessly with what we are trying to do. They are good players. They fit a role but it is the beginning of the season and there is a lot of basketball to be played.”
“I am really looking forward to this season,” says Luke Morris of Mission BC, now into his fourth year of USport eligibility. “We have a lot of new faces who are just getting accustomed to University basketball. I am looking forward to having an increased role on this team.”
The WolfPack have only one fifth year: that is Canada West third team all-star Volodymyr Iegorov (forward, Donetsk, Ukraine).
“He is a fifth year guy who has seen lots of good basketball,” stated Clark. “He is a good player. I think he provides good confidence for the rest of the guys in that he has been in a lot of big games. Stressful games. He is a good player. That helps the other guys around him. That is what he can do on the floor. Off the floor, his approach to school and training, weight room, the court is tremendous.
“I will have to make better decisions out on the court now that people are aware of my game,” Iegorov said about how he is approaching his final season of university basketball. “They will try to guard me tougher I am sure because they consider me a bigger threat.”
When he looks at the team’s strengths this year, Iegorov states: “We will try and play smart first of all and not turn over the ball. We will have to play tough transition defence. Those are our main goals.”
Morris red shirted with TRU after starting his academic/athletic career at the University of the Fraser Valley. He says being with the WolfPack has seen him adjust from a rookie to the role he will undertake now: that of a veteran presence on the court. “Over time you learn from the guys in front of you. Last year, we had great leaders in Reese (Pribilsky), Josh (Wolfram) and Gerard (Gore). You hope you can fill their shoes.”
He adds:” They taught me a lot. Especially the way they conducted themselves both on and off the court. You see them every day. They become not only your friends but a role model as well.”
“They were great leaders,” Iegorov said about last year’s fifth years. “The mentorship they gave me last year was significant. What I am trying to do right now is pass on that experience to the freshmen. We’ll try to teach them, give them tips on and off the floor, in real life if they want it.”
Morris admits that as the longest serving member of the WolfPack organization right now, it is a little different. “It’s a little weird. I’m not the oldest (Iegorov is) but it’s amazing when you think how time has flown.”
One player returning to the fold this year with TRU is Joe Davis (Kamloops, BC). The Westsyde grad took the 2015-16 campaign off after playing the year previous. Clark is happy to have him back. “Joe has played very well. He is a tremendous teammate. Works hard. He has made sacrifices. It is a generational thing. He has picked up on what guys did before him. They handed down some characteristics that make him and us successful. His high school experience with Ryan Porter (former UCC now TRU alum). The way he coaches and conducts himself. Tremendous for a young guy to play under him. Joe is a product of those experiences.”
When asked about the Canada West going to one big division this year, Clark definitely has an opinion. “ You just have to play the games they present to you. I don’t think it is a great schedule system to be honest. I am not sure it is a schedule. It is just a bunch of games. There is no two teams in Canada West that actually play the same schedule. I am not sure how you can compare teams when it’s that situation. But that being said. That is what we are faced with. Our job is to do the best job we can with the resources that we have provided—week in and week out. That’s what we do.”
Game times are 8 pm on Friday and 7 pm on Saturday. They will webcast on a pay-per-view basis on Canada West TV.
DOUBLE DRIBBLES: Clark on what was so special about the squad that brought the school not only its first Canada West basketball medal but also a berth in the CIS final 8 tournament. “They were a bunch of guys that were committed to each other, the program and the university. They made some tremendous sacrifices in their training and personal lives to achieve something as a group. The reward at the end of the year was a chance to go to the national tournament. If we had come up a little short of that, it was still a tremendous season with those guys. Going to the national tournament is great but it is the journey which means most to each and every guy. I am sure in 20 years they might not remember whether we beat Mount Royal at Mount Royal or lost. But the relationships will survive the test of time because of the sacrifices and hard work. There is a common bond there. That is what I am proud of.”
Friday night will see the WolfPack host a VIP area for the first time this year. It will be located on the floor near the court. As well, it is Country 103 night and there will be a number of events surrounding that.
This weekend is a ‘McDonald’s weekend” which include Big Mac Eating contests.
UBC features former WolfPack player Wil Ondrik of Vernon,BC. Ondrik is into his fifth and final year of eligibility. Another players of note on their roster include Justin McChesney, who is the younger brother of WolfPack swim assistant coach Sarah from Prince Rupert, BC and Parker Simson of Kelowna, BC who also played on the UBC men’s soccer squad. Both McChesney and Simson are in their first year.