Goran English is just another dialect of basketball’s universal language, an unorthodox pivot from lexicon heard by TRU WolfPack women for the past 13 years.
Media were invited this week to watch Belgrade, Serbia, native Goran Nogic conduct a practice, his first since being named the Canada West club’s head coach on May 15 and the first WolfPack training session (outside of trial runs during the interview process) of the post-Scott Reeves era.
Reeves had been in charge since 2006-2007. Athletic director Curtis Atkinson, who began his tenure last January, chose to cut ties with Reeves in March.
“I told them I have my English,” Nogic said. “I speak the Goran English.”
Nogic held court with reporters for nearly 15 minutes and dulled concern of language barrier tripping up the Pack. Some English was a touch broken, but everyone got the picture.
“He speaks basketball. We speak basketball. That’s all you need,” said fifth-year guard Leilani Carney, a Burnaby product. “He talks a little differently, but we’re already used to it.”
Nogic and his family — wife Olivera and daughters Jovana, 21, and Nevena, 12 — moved to North America in 2015 from Portugal, where the coach built his resume guiding men’s and women’s amateur and professional teams.
The move to Canada was made primarily to make it easier to visit Jovana, who played for the NCAA Division 1 Providence Friars from 2015 to 2019, a tenure she parlayed into a contract with a Spanish pro team.
Nogic put his career aspirations on hold, but ran 3D Basketball Academy in North Vancouver while his wife established a child-care business and Nevena settled into a new country and elementary school.
“And now I would like to proceed,” Nogic said, noting his wife and youngest daughter will remain in North Vancouver next season so Nevena can finish Grade 7 with her friends and Olivera can formulate business plans.
Atkinson ran down references and spoke to hoops-savvy folks across North America and Europe, with exceptional feedback among reasons Nogic got the gig.
Now the work begins for the 47-year-old bench boss who is tasked with turning around a program that is 104-189 since inception has been eliminated in Round 1 in each of its five post-season appearances, none of which have come in the past three years.
“I didn’t come here to stay in the same position,” Nogic said. “I believe we will manage to do some changes even in the first season, but of course that is some process because most of the players are recruited without my knowledge.”
By the sound of things, returning players have one season to prove they belong. Establishing positions and securing playing time will become even tougher when international players start to arrive.
“I have the green light to bring some international recruitment,” said Nogic, hired in part because of overseas basketball connections. “It must be clearly someone who will make a huge difference and impact on the program. I don’t want to bring them just because they’re international.”
Audrey Rankin, an Upper Marlboro, Md., product who played for TRU in 2016-2017, is the only international player in WolfPack women’s basketball history.
The Pack can carry up to three international players, but Nogic said he will likely wait until 2020-2021 to bring any to Kamloops.
Task No. 1 is familiarizing the current group with an entirely foreign system, a brand new philosophy that will be taught in Goran English.
“It was skills we’d never done before,” said Megan Rouault, a third-year guard from Vernon. “All new things. Not everyone is here right now and not everyone will be here until September. We can all mostly understand him. When we didn’t, he used hand signals. It’s not bad at all.”
Added second-year guard Emily Ferguson of Kamloops: “It’s completely different. We do a lot more skill work. Everybody is corrected. It’s a great thing. The adjustment is going to take a while.”
Strong defensive fundamentals are key to Nogic’s philosophy.
“I like to play behind the concept control the game,” Nogic said. “At the same time, I love when you have creative players. The most beautiful part of basketball is to show creativity.
“If they don’t manage to improve and play the way that I think, we will probably have to make some changes to the roster.”
Players have about five months until the regular season begins and one year to make sure they’re not lost in translation.
“We’re better than a lot of people think we are,” Carney said.
“With the type of players we have and a coach that can really develop us to be better and execute on the floor, I don’t think playoffs is an insane goal to have.
“The coach has a vision. I’ll trust in that and see where it goes.”