The education of Venky Jois in the ways of American basketball began last fall. In Canada.
The stamps on his Australian passport were barely dry when Jois joined his new Eastern Washington teammates for his first game – a week-long road trip through British Columbia that came on the heels of his amateur season, which followed a high school career that ended in 2011.
In other words, Jois has been on the court for about a year and a half.
“I imagine Venky is looking for a little break,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said.
“Basketball has always been my sport,” said Jois, the Eagles’ leading scorer and rebounder. “I love watching it and playing it, and I just love being around it.”
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Jois excelled at several sports in high school, including track, swimming, cross country, soccer and Australian Rules Football.
“The footie boys wanted me, but basketball’s always been it for me,” said Jois, whose father is Indian and mother Australian. Both are in Cheney this week for the last two home games of the season, Thursday against Northern Colorado and Saturday against North Dakota.
High school ball “was a really good stepping stone for overseas, and at 15 or 16 I realized it could be a reality for me,” said Jois, who caught the attention of Hayford through his high school coach in Boronia, a suburb of Melbourne.
Last year he led the Victoria State team to an unbeaten record and national championship to set up his career in the States.
The speed of the American game took him by surprise.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Jois said. “It’s a way faster game. I guess coming in with a blank slate it’s hard to know what to expect.”
Oddly enough, the Australian game is more structured than the American version “because you don’t have the athletes you have over here.” He added, “Even when it comes to natural shooting ability, you don’t have that in Australia, so on defense you can play more to help out than to guard your own man.”
Jois, a biology major and a quick study, filled in the blanks quickly even in his first game at Washington State. He scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds, those averages rising steadily through the preseason to 12.7 ppg and 9.4 rpg, the latter tops in the Big Sky Conference.
Jois has nine double-doubles and leads the conference in blocked shots with 2.5 per game.
“Venky has been our most consistent player,” Hayford said. “The biggest compliment I can give him is that I expect him to play that way.”
By the end of January, the Eagles had seemingly overcome a season’s worth of detours, winning back-to-back home games against Portland State and Montana State. But in the final minutes of the MSU game, Jois went down with an ankle sprain.
Without him, the Eagles dropped two more games and barely won another – a 77-74 miracle at Northern Arizona – but got him back for some meaningful minutes in a crucial 86-72 win over Southern Utah. After a loss at Portland State in which Jois had 17 points and nine boards, the Eagles overcame their latest setback – guard Kevin Winford’s compartment syndrome injury – to beat Sam Houston State 81-76.
“Getting him to near full strength is huge,” Hayford said. “That’s a guy that when you prepare for a game, you can realistically expect a double-double from him.”
For Jois, the injury “was frustrating because we were on a roll,” he said. “Even now I can’t elevate quite as much as I could.”
His enthusiasm for the game has helped carry the Eagles through a roller-coaster season that could come to a happy ending if they can win two more games this week. Crunch time is a universal concept in any sport, anywhere.
“It’s now or never,” Jois said “My teammates have grown to respect that this is it, and for the seniors, these are the last games were get to play, potentially.”