For Scott Clark, head coach of the TRU WolfPack men’s basketball team, it’s a tough question: What does he expect of his players this season?
It’s only tough because he’s still getting to know most of those players.
The WolfPack is scheduled to open the Canada West season tonight, 8 o’clock, against the Fraser Valley Cascades at the Tournament Capital Centre. TRU and UFV also will play Saturday, 7 p.m., at the TCC.
Clark is entering his second season with the WolfPack and, like last season, his team is young. In fact, only four players off the team that went 4-20 in 2010-11 are back.
“It’s difficult to talk about my expectations in terms of performance,” said Clark, “because there are so many new faces. I know what my expectations are for the four returners . . . but it’s difficult to do that for the high-school kids.
“I’m not a guy who says I expect the playoffs or anything. My expectation is that we’re going to go through a process that will allow us to be successful.”
Of the WolfPack’s 13 eligible players, only forward Chas Kok and guards Kevin Pribilsky, Brett Parker and Brett Rouault were on the team last season. For all four players, it was their first seasons in Kamloops — Kok and Pribilsky transferred from the Simon Fraser Clan, while Parker and Rouault were right out of high school.
So this team has a long road ahead, even if two of its players are third-year transfers. Justin King, a forward, came from Skagit Valley Community College in Washington, while guard Akeem Pierre came from the UBC Thunderbirds.
And everyone seems excited with the new players — along with King and Pierre, Clark also signed twin forwards Blaz and Ivan Bozinovic of St. Ann’s, guard Connor Dolson of Sa-Hali, forward Will Ondrik of Vernon, and guards Mike Zayas of Richmond, Derek Wolf of Penticton and Zach Usherwood of Coquitlam.
“They’re young, but they’re also very skilled,” said Kok, TRU’s lone fifth-year player. “Development-wise, we’re getting better every day, which is awesome to see. Everybody’s pulling in the same direction.”
But TRU also suffered a major loss — Greg Stewart, the CIS defensive of the year in 2010-11, has graduated, leaving an enormous hole at centre. Stewart, all 7-foot-2 of him, was a force on the boards, and it won’t be easy replacing the 13.3 rebounds he hauled down each game.
“(Defensively) is the area where Greg’s presence was felt and where we miss him,” Clark said. “Offensively, you can play any number of styles, but defensively, big people are key. We’re probably trying to find our way a little defensively at this point.”
But King has filled the offensive gaps, helping TRU win three of its six games. The 6-foot-4 King grew up in Riverside, Calif., and went to high school in Las Vegas, and was the MVP of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges in 2010-11.
He hit double-digits in points in five of the WolfPack’s six preseason contests, and is coming in as a leader for a young team.
“It’s a good fit for me,” King said. “They accept me here, and I can play hard and go out there and do the best I can.
“Coach Clark gives us a lot of freedom on the court, and I can play inside and out — play to my strengths.”
Clark says the WolfPack has a little more depth than last season, but still not as much as the top teams in Canada West.
But it does have two quality leaders in Kok and Pribilsky, who finished 1-2 in Canada West in minutes played last season.
Pribilsky averaged 35.1 minutes per 40-minute game, while Kok was on the floor an average of 34.7 minutes. Kok averaged 16.3 points per game, with Pribilsky contributing 14.2.
“I think (the minutes) will be scaled back a bit,” Kok said. “Will’s a good player, Justin’s a good player and maybe we can throw one of the two (Bozinovic brothers) in there, see how they do.”
FOUL SHOTS: After this weekend, the WolfPack will play its next four games on the road, on Nov. 11 at Calgary, Nov. 12 at Lethbridge, and Nov. 18-19 in Victoria. . . . TRU will finish up the first half of its 18-game schedule with home games against Brandon on Nov. 25 and Regina on Nov. 26. . . . The UBC-Okanagan Heat is new to Canada West this season, and the two Interior teams will play a home-and-home set to finish the regular season, with the Heat at the TCC on Feb. 11 and the rematch in Kelowna on Feb. 12.