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Nogic brings flair, tough love to improving TRU Wolfpack

Nogic: “All the girls are like my daughters. When I’m angry, when I’m upset, I’m upset with basketball and the way I communicate with them is the way I expect that they can react, as they react so far in the previous games that we’ve won."
Leilani Carney
Fifth-year TRU WolfPack guard Leilani Carney sunk a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter against UNBC on Friday to tie the game and later, with six seconds remaining on the clock, iced the contest with a pair of free throws. TRU won 68-66. - Allen Douglas/KTW

Serbian sideline swagger has arrived in Kamloops.

Anyone watching Goran Nogic patrol the TRU WolfPack women’s basketball team’s bench area during a Canada West tilt against the UNBC Timberwolves on Saturday got a look at passion, vigour, tenderness, anger, paternal care, fervour, zeal, humour, anxiety, discipline, exasperation, furor and affection.

And then the second quarter began.

The 48-year-old livewire from Belgrade took the head coaching reins in May, inheriting a group that last season posted a 4-20 record. He promised in his rookie season only to floor a team that fights.

No playoff guarantees. No projected win totals. No lofty goals.

Just a team that will not say die.

Nogic has delivered and pitched in a bonus — victories.

TRU has eclipsed its win total from 2018-2019, sitting in a four-way tie for second in the conference with a record of 5-3.

Players speak about adjusting to what they call Goran English, an Anglo-Serbian-Hoops dialect they are quickly learning, but his in-your-face coaching style might be an even bigger culture shock.

Tough-love moments on the sidelines are nothing new in sports, but the likes of Nogic’s tirades are novel to at least a few members of the WolfPack.

Three of those dressing-downs stood out on Saturday.

Third-year guard Megan Rouault appeared to take a shot in the first quarter that Nogic deemed to be ill-advised.

The coach, who is never afraid to interact with officials, flagged down a referee to call a timeout, during which he made an example out of the third-year guard from Vernon in front of teammates.

“It doesn’t feel great [at the time], but you know that he just wants the best from you and you need to refocus mentally and get back out there and do better next time,” Rouault told KTW after the game.

“In September, some people were getting yelled at and they’re like, ‘Whoa,’ and not used to it, but we all know it comes from a good place and it’s just him trying to get the best out of us.”

The WolfPack’s timeout scrum broke and Rouault promptly drove the basket, drew a foul and made both free throws.

First-year guard Jordin Wilkinson was next to feel the ire, singled out and reprimanded by Nogic during a timeout in the second quarter.

“It’s hard, but he knows what you can do and he expects that from you,” Wilkinson said. “He demands that. He knows us.

“We all want to win, we all want to push each other as hard as possible and I think that’s one strong suit of our team, is we’re not afraid to push each other.”

That timeout came with the WolfPack mired in a double-digit deficit. Defensive intensity picked up immediately, offence followed and the Timberwolves’ lead was cut to two points by halftime.

There were several heated team addresses in the third quarter, but Nogic saved his most fiery discourse for Jordan Robb, who was assessed a foul that troubled her head coach.

The 5-foot-11 forward from Kelowna seems a glutton for punishment.

“I actually like it when he yells at me,” Robb said. “It’s great when he yells at me because I know he wants me to improve and wants me to be a better player.

“He’s not saying it to make me feel bad or anything. He’s saying it because he knows we’re good players and we need to show it.”

The Timberwolves kept pulling ahead, but the WolfPack, who were looking for a weekend sweep of their rivals from Prince George, did not go away.

Emma Piggin personified her coach’s fury in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, contorting to make a highlight-reel layup and draining a rainmaker three-pointer with about 17 seconds remaining to force overtime.

“I don’t even really notice it,” Piggin said when asked about channelling Nogic’s criticism. “He really cares about our basketball and the team and hitting shots and getting back on defence. You don’t really notice it at the end of the day.”

The T-Wolves (3-5), led by superb guard Maria Mongomo, pulled away in the extra session to put the finishing touches on an 87-77 triumph over the exhausted WolfPack.

“I’m not playing against the coach,” UNBC head coach Sergey Shchepotkin told KTW. “I coach my team. But I know very well their coach is good professional and he will definitely put their team on new level.”

Nogic spoke to his methods after the game.

“I’ve coached this team already three months,” said Nogic, whose fleet-of-foot movement and reactionary antics on the sidelines did not go unnoticed by most fans in attendance. “They know how we communicate. When I speak with my players, I speak about basketball.

“All the girls are like my daughters. When I’m angry, when I’m upset, I’m upset with basketball and the way I communicate with them is the way I expect that they can react, as they react so far in the previous games that we’ve won.

“Tonight, we just didn’t have enough rest for the decision in the last five minutes.”

TRU is off to a nice start, but its previous opponents have a combined record of 7-21.

Next up for the WolfPack are acid tests against the league-leading Saskatchewan Huskies (6-0) this weekend at the TCC.

Round 1 is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday. The rematch is slated for 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Saskatchewan can expect to spar with an underdog team hankering for a fight and a coach who doesn’t own a white towel.

Tickets are $10 for adults, a fair price considering the WolfPack’s corner man alone is worth the price of admission.