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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eagles optimistic as post-Jois era begins

Venky Jois was nowhere to be found Tuesday afternoon at Reese Court, and yet he was everywhere.

The way Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford figures it, Jois helped lay a foundation in the building he shook to the rafters with his thunderous slam dunks.

“The last four years, he was always there,” said Hayford, whose sixth year in Cheney began with a preseason trip to Jois’ homeland of Australia.

That journey closed a circle, but another Australian hopes for a different return trip.

The Eagles are less than a week into practice for a season that begins in less than four weeks, but senior co-captain Felix Von Hofe hopes for a return to the NCAA Tournament the Eagles reached in 2015.

“I want to win this conference and I want to head back to the tournament – I think that’s what everyone wants,” said Von Hofe, who along with fellow forward Bogdan Bliznyuk and guard Julian Harrell will be the key players to get them there.

Last year, Bliznyuk averaged 12 points and almost seven rebounds. Von Hoff averaged 13 points and better than three 3-pointers, while the versatile Harrell added 8.3 points and almost three boards. All three were honored this week as pre-season all-Big Sky picks by College Sports madness.

“I am excited about what they will do as leaders of this year’s team,” Hayford said.

Ironically, minor injuries limited their playing time in Australia. The short-term benefit was more playing time for the youngsters, which gives the Eagles an even bigger head start to the season.

They’ll need it. Hayford loses not only Jois – the leading scorer in EWU history – but also point guard Austin McBroom. Together they averaged 37 points a game, or 46 percent of the Eagles’ offense.

Help has arrived, and from close to home. Lewis-Clark State transfer Jacob Wiley – a 6-foot-8 native of Newport, Washington, is the heir apparent to Jois.

“We’re really high on Jake,” Hayford said. “He played great in Australia … he’s going to slide into the role that Venky played, and he’s super-athletic.”

At point guard, Hayford is counting on 6-5 Serbian freshman Luka Vulikic. However, Harrell and veteran Sir Washington could see time at the point.

The Eagles (18-16 last year) , open with a home exhibition game against Saint Martin’s on Oct. 30. The regular season opens on Nov. 11 against Division III Linfield, now coached by former Eastern assistant Alex Pribble.