RENO, Nevada – The Senior Night crowd was long gone as Venky Jois and his family, friends and teammates soaked in the memories Saturday at Reese Court.
They’d come halfway around the world to share the final chapter of a dream, one that began four years when Jois took a leap of faith across the Pacific Ocean and joined coach Jim Hayford at Eastern Washington.
Now they were gathered in a small clutch between the lockerroom and the bleachers, not quite ready for it to end.
Of course, it isn’t over yet. The Eagles are in Reno, preparing to defend their Big Sky Conference tournament men’s basketball championship, but that didn’t lessen the sense of finality on Saturday: This was Jois’ last game at Reese Court.
“Mum was getting a little emotional,” Jois said. “It was more like a celebration, a look at what you’ve done instead of what you’re going to be missing out on.”
Jois has done plenty in four years with the Eagles. He is the only the third player in Big Sky history with more than 1,600 points and 900 rebounds. On Thursday, he became the leading scorer in Eastern history.
His totals: 1,766 points, 989 rebounds and 236 blocked shots in a career that spans 119 games – the kind of stats that will get Jois’ No. 55 jersey plastered on the wall at Reese Court one day.
Numbers only go so far.
“What I’m going to miss most is his character,” said teammate Felix Von Hofe.
“He’s a fantastic guy. It’s probably because he’s Australian – it runs in the gene pool,” laughed Von Hofe, who like Jois hails from the Melbourne area.
That too is another tribute to Jois: His success led to an Australian pipeline straight to Cheney. Jois will be gone next year, but Von Hofe, Michael Wearne, Jesse Hunt and Geremy McKay will carry on.
“He’s the reason I came,” said Von Hofe, a dead-eye shooter whose outside game has complemented Jois’ inside presence.
“Venky was the only (Australian) who’d been here when things were going wrong,” said Von Hofe, who followed a year later. “I’m really going to miss that constant presence.”
One of Hayford’s first recruits, Jois made a mark from the beginning, earning Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors in 2012-13.
That season ended with a 10-21 record, but Jois and the Eagles have grown since then. After seasons of 15-16, 26-9 and this year’s 16-14 mark, Hayford knows Jois’ contributions go beyond the stat line.
“Venky not only came in very talented, but he was the student and teammate that we really needed,” Hayford said. “He was willing to lead in all those different areas.”
“That, along with having Parker Kelly and Tyler Harvey in our program, really set the culture for us to be successful. There are a lot of players who are really good players, but you can’t build a culture around them.
“With Venky you can,” Hayford said.
Jois also will be remembered for the slashing drives, the chest-pounding after each slam dunk. Every one seemed to amp the crowd and his teammates.
On and off the court, that matters most to Jois.
“It’s the brotherhood. You establish such close connections – every Senior Night has been pretty emotional for me,” he said.
“This will always be a family for me,” Jois said.
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