KAMLOOPS – Of all the teams Thompson Rivers University has in the CIS Canada West, the men’s basketball squad sits in the loftiest position going into the Christmas break.
Scott Clark and his TRU crew are 6-4 in the Pacific Division, three games back of the first-place Victoria Vikings.
“If we don’t get better we will be disappointed at the end of things,” said Clark. “The challenge right now is to say: ‘Let’s celebrate with the little bit of success that we have.’ But we need to have the attitude that we need to get better every week. If we do that, we will give ourselves a chance at having some success in February and March.”
Former VSS Panther Will Ondrik, who graduated at White Rock Christian Academy, and Fulton Maroons’ grad Brett Rouault, are making an impact with the Pack.
“We have won the games we needed to win,” said Rouault. “It is nice after four years here that we have some progress finally. We want to continue that.”
A 6-foot-4 guard, Rouault figures TRU has a legitimate shot at a playoff berth.
“It is looking really good at this point. We can’t freeload it for the rest of the year; we have to work hard as usual.”
A fourth-year science major, Rouault leads the WolfPack and the Canada West Conference in long distance aerials, sinking 17 of 31 trey attempts. He is averaging 14.4 minutes of floor time and is fourth on the team with 7.6 points a game.
With a much different and stronger roster than last year, he’s playing less but he accepts the situation.
“I feel like a much better player. The team is definitely a lot better. In previous years, I have had a bigger role. Now I am more of a support player but it’s the team success ahead of individual success and I am fine with that.”
Ondrik, a third-year forestry, blew a knee out early last year against the Western Washingon Vikings and is slowly rediscovering his A-game. The 6-foot-7 forward drained a dozen points as the WolfPack lost 99-74 to Western Washington in exhibition men’s basketball action Dec. 17 in Bellingham.
The Vikings are the fifth ranked team in NCAA Division II.
On his injury, Ondrik said: “I think I am doing OK so far. I am not playing at the level I should be. Coach isn’t happy with the way I have been playing and I have to step it up in the second half, especially on defence, and be more aggressive.”
Ondrik gets 26.6 minutes of court time – the most on the team – and is draining an average of 10.6 points a game. He is 29-for-33 from the charity stripe – second best in the conference – and has pulled down 37 defensive rebounds, tops with TRU.
Ondrik realizes the season is hardly over, but he too believes TRU will be at the playoff dance.
“We got a bunch of new players this year. Overall, we got a lot better as a team. Our defence is a lot better but we have to work on our rebounding and some of our turnovers.”
Josh Wolfram (third-year forward, Kamloops) didn’t play last year, Tallon Milne (fourth-year forward, Vanderhoof) hasn’t played for two years and Reese Pribilsky, (third-year guard, Victoria) sat out last year. They are all starters.
Clark is quick to point to what he likes about the group.
“They are really nice guys as people. They are fun to work with. For the most part, they want to do the right things and that is all you can ask as a coach.”
With four starters, including Ondrik, getting little or no touches last season, Clark figured the WolfPack would be slow off the mark.
“The level of consistency isn’t as good as you would hope for,” he said. “But you know that their best basketball will be played in the second half of the year. I love their attitude and upside. I like their approach and I like that they don’t feel satisfied.”
Clark says of the four teams he has had since he came to Thompson Rivers, the 2013-14 squad has the best overall dynamic.
“It has gotten better and better. But you would expect that. You are forming bonds. It is something that takes time to achieve. The only way you can do that is to spend time together, work hard together, be committed together. I believe it’s good on this club because the commitment level has been the highest since I have been here. Everyone has done what we have asked them to do and they have formed a brotherhood.”
Individually, the WolfPack have six players among the Canada West elite. They are led by Ta’Quan Zimmerman (third-year guard, Waterbury, Conn.) who stands third in the league in scoring (19.1 points per game) and second in three point field goal per cent (.521).
The WolfPack head to Southern California for two games before New Year’s. They return to Canada West play on the road on Thursday, Jan. 9, in Regina against the Cougars.