By land, sea or air, getting from Albury, Australia, to Kamloops isn’t an easy trip.
That doesn’t even begin to describe D.J. Oates’s journey here.
Oates is in his first season with the TRU WolfPack men’s basketball team, which is getting ready for a pair of weekend Canada West home games. The Lethbridge Pronghorns are here Friday, 8 p.m., with the Calgary Dinos here Saturday, 7 p.m. Both games will be played at TRU Gym.
Oates (his name is David John) may be a rookie, but he has been around. At 26, he’s the oldest member of the WolfPack, and already has led quite a life.
He has been a ticketed plumber, a ski bum and an Australian Rules football player. And he’s doing none of those things while in Kamloops.
“I like it here,” Oates says. “I don’t really like driving in (the snow) — that’s a little scary.”
Oates grew up in Albury, which is in New South Wales, and graduated from Murray High School in 2004. He earned his plumbing ticket and worked in that field until getting an itch in 2009.
That itch led to a “working holiday” in Canada, where he started at Mount Washington Alpine Resort near Courtenay and went on to work at Kananaskis Golf Resort near Canmore, Alta. After that, he decided to get back into plumbing, and ended up working a couple of years around Edmonton and Fort McMurray.
All this time, he hardly touched a basketball — at least not in a competitive environment.
“It was probably five years,” Oates says. “I played in the South East Australia Basketball League for the Albury-Wodonga Bandits. It’s a pretty decent league . . .”
But like the itch that brought him to Canada, Oates got an itch to return to hoops.
“I have a friend who played for coach (Scott) Clark,” Oates says of fellow Australian Luke McKerrow. “I got in contact with coach, moved to Kamloops and started practising with the guys during the summer.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play this season, but I started getting my fitness back, made some friends and decided to stick around.”
A 6-foot-6 forward, Oates has appeared in seven games for the WolfPack, which is 4-7. He went down with a leg injury and missed four games in the first half, but has averaged 2.3 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.4 minutes a game.
Oates’s game is predicated on size and intensity — two things that came in handy when he was playing Australian rules football. An ankle injury ended his time on the pitch.
“I’m a bigger-bodied guy than some of these guys, and I’ve got some strength,” Oates says. “You can’t really teach size or height — I’m a big body. I can bang guys in the post, get some offensive rebounds and I try to do what I can.”
This weekend’s games will basically determine what chance remains for the WolfPack to make the playoffs. Losses to Calgary (4-6) and Lethbridge (5-5) would all but kill TRU, which hasn’t made the postseason since joining Canada West before 2005-06.
With leading scorer Will Ondrik (knee) on the shelf, everyone is expected to contribute, especially Oates, who plays a similar game to the 6-foot-7 Ondrik.
“We’re still very confident,” Oates says. “Will’s a big loss, but he’s due back any week now. But that just gives everyone else a chance to step up —guys like me or Brett Rouault.
“It’s going to be tough, but I have faith.”
Oates had never seen snow before setting foot in Canada, but became a big-time boarder not long after arriving.
And although there’s plenty of white stuff on the ground and the world-class Sun Peaks Resort not far away, Oates hasn’t been able to take advantage.
“I’ve only been out once this year,” he says. “I’m too afraid to go out and get injured. Coach won’t be too happy about that.”
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Diane Schuetze was named Canada West’s women’s basketball player of the week.
Schuetze, a fifth-year centre from Vernon, was saluted after helping the WolfPack beat the UBC-Okanagan Heat 91-54 at the Tournament Capital Centre on Saturday. The 6-foot-3 Schuetze had 28 points and 15 rebounds in the victory.
She leads Canada West in points per game (20.4) and rebounds (11.6) heading into TRU’s games against Lethbridge on Friday, 6 p.m., and Calgary on Saturday at 5 p.m.
The WolfPack is 8-3. Calgary (9-1) is the No. 10-ranked team in the CIS, while Lethbridge is 5-5.
Due to the Western Canadian age group wrestling championships at the Tournament Capital Centre, the games will be played at TRU. Saturday’s basketball games will serve as alumni night.
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Both WolfPack volleyball teams will head to Saskatoon for their first matches of the second half.
TRU will play the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday and Saturday.
For TRU’s men, it’s the stretch drive toward the playoffs. The WolfPack is 5-7 and trying to catch the 7-5 Huskies.
The WolfPack women are playing out the string on what has been a tough season. TRU is 0-12 and, barring a miracle, won’t make the playoffs. Saskatchewan is having a tough time as well, going 1-11.
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The WolfPack will try to snap a four-game losing streak against the only squad below it in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League standings.
TRU (4-7-0-1) is tied for fourth in the six-team league. The last-place team, Trinity Western, will be the WolfPack’s opponent on Friday in Langley.
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The WolfPack baseball team is getting ready to hold a dinner and silent auction to raise money for its spring training in Arizona.
The event is scheduled for Jan. 27, at the Central Station Pub. Tickets, which cost $12, are available by calling 250-231-7224 or emailing email@example.com.