They played three exhibition games in Arizona just before Christmas and will battle the NCAA Division 2 Western Washington Vikings on Dec. 30 in Bellingham. They are a young team just below .500 in the Pacific Division of the Canada West Conference.
Life as a member of the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack is pretty sweet and is likely to get even better for a pair of Vernon high school basketball grads.
Will Ondrik, a forward who played for the VSS Panthers before transferring to White Rock Christian Christan Academy Warriors, and Brett Rouault, a former Fulton Maroon guard, are go-to-guys with the Pack (4-6).
“He has a world of potential,” said TRU head coach Scott Clark, of the 6-foot-7 Ondrik. “He has played well but I think he is just scratching the surface. There is a lot of upside to him. If he can focus a little more in the off-season on his training and stay with a plan, he could really, improve. I think he could be a great player. He is good right now but I think he really could be great.”
Ondrik, a sophmore forward, is eighth in free throw percentage (.845) and 13th in scoring (16.5 points per game average) in the Canada West.
Clark wants Ondrik to be consistent in the second half.
“My expectations are that he play hard and that he competes. Competing is not just playing hard but playing smart. He needs to be tough and doing what is required every single possession and game.”
Ondrik feels he keeps learning the offence Clark designed. He feels more comfortable as a second-year and has noticed he’s getting closer checking.
“It’s better your second year because you know what the coach expects, how tired you would be from traveling and the effects of bussing or flying. It’s just a bit easier. I am seeing a lot more attention. Guys that are a lot bigger and stronger than me are checking me. It has proven to be more challenging for me to score. But with coach’s offence, we don’t have to go one-on-one. It’s more back door and easy roll backs.”
At 19, Ondrik is getting black and blue while going up against more mature players.
“Oh ya, all my checks are older than me. I just have to absorb the contact. One of my weaknesses is being too skinny for my size. Coach keeps harping on me to get into the weight room and stuff. When I keep doing that, I will be able to absorb the contact more.”
Rouault, a third-year guard, is 30th in scoring (13 points per game average).
“I think we have played well and to the best of our ability but nothing significant so far,” said the 21-year-old, who was derailed by injury part of last year. “We are a young team but I like where we are headed in the second half. I put the time in training this summer and I think it is paying off for me. It is nice to have some success on the court finally after two long years.”
Clark says Rouault epitomizes a WolfPack student- athlete and ambassador in the community.
“He is great in the classroom. You want all your guys to be like that – very mature about the classroom is why they are here and that is where their future lies. Their athletic skills will help them be successful but the knowledge that they pick up in the classroom is even more valuable.
“Brett gets that and understands that. It is very impressive when young guys are mature enough to see that.”
On being a leader of books and buckets, Rouault said: “I think the key is managing your time well. On the basketball court, think about basketball, and as soon as you are back to studying, try and do as well at that too. It usually takes me a good half hour to switch from athlete to student mode. If I had a test immediately after practice, I don’t think I would do as well.”
The WolfPack has five new players and only one fifth-year starter, guard Kevin Pribilsky of Victoria.
“I feel in terms of record, we should be a little better than we are,” said Clark. “It is a little frustrating. But I think that we have gotten a lot better, individually and as a unit. The culture has gotten better since I came here just over two years ago. We are one game out of a playoff spot. We are in the hunt, now we just have to play better basketball after Christmas.”
Clark, who joined the Pack in 2010 after 15 years coaching the SFU Clansmen, says that is always the case in his sport.
“Even if you were vying for a league championship, you have to play your best basketball after Christmas. Right now, we are just hoping to make the playoffs.”
As far as the teams the WolfPack has to face in the second half: “I think our schedule is much better. Even though we have five on the road, two of them are within three hours of us – Kelowna and Abbotsford. Those two aren’t crazy. We have one difficult one – going to Edmonton and Saskatoon.”
The WolfPack returns to Canada West play on Saturday Jan. 5 at the Tournament Capital Centre against the UBCO Heat.