In almost every respect, American basketball was an unknown quantity for Venky Jois.
The same could be said of Jois himself, who on Monday was named the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year by the league’s men’s coaches.
Despite being in a new land, with new teammates and dealing with an injury, the true freshman from Australia averaged 12.3 points and nine rebounds to lead the Eagles in both categories.
“It’s a great honor – I loved competing this year for Eastern,” said Jois. “There are a few really talented freshmen playing in the Big Sky, so it’s definitely a big achievement for me.
“I’m just looking forward to next year.”
To that end, Jois said he plans to dedicate the off-season to improving his shooting and ballhandling.
“I still think my teammates and I have only scratched the surface, and are going to get a lot better over the offseason,” said Jois, a 6-foot-7 forward from Boronia, Australia.
Jois, who was also an honorable mention pick on the all-conference team, finished with 66 blocked shots. He originally broke the school record of 51 set by Paul Butorac in 2006, but was passed by teammate Martin Seiferth (68). Jois already ranks seventh on EWU’s career list.
“I’m very proud of Venky, and to do that most of the second half of the season with an injury speaks even more highly of what he’s been able to do,” coach Jim Hayford said.
The all-conference team was headlined by Montana guard-forward Kareem Jamar, the first Grizzly to win the Most Valuable Player award since 1992. Teammate Will Cherry was named Defensive Player of the Year despite missing 10 games with an injury.
Weber State junior Davion Berry, a transfer from Division II Cal State Monterey Bay, was named Newcomer of the Year, and also earned all-conference first-team honors.
Jamar and North Dakota junior Troy Huff were unanimous selections to the first team. Joining them and Cherry on the first team were Weber senior guard Scott Bamforth, Northern Arizona senior guard Gabe Rogers, and Northern Colorado junior forward Derrick Barden.
Jois became the fifth Eagle – all in the last 12 seasons – to be the BSC Freshman of the Year, following Marc Axton (2002), Matt Nelson (2004), Rodney Stuckey (2006) and Glen Dean (2010).
Jois finished the season with nine double-doubles to lead the Big Sky and rank 69th in NCAA Division I, but none since suffering his ankle injury on Dec. 31 against Montana State.