TRU WolfPack men's basketball team learning to win; home opener Friday

Joe Davis did not dress for a single game in his freshman season, watching instead as his TRU WolfPack made program history with their first-ever berth at the 2016 U Sports Men’s Basketball Championship.

The Westsyde secondary graduate, now a fourth-year forward and key contributor, would love to feel the thrill of nationals for himself before his post-secondary hoops career is over.

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TRU will begin its home Canada West schedule this weekend against the Victoria Vikes at the Tournament Capital Centre. Game time is 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Reaching the big dance in the next two seasons is a long shot, but it always has been for a small school in Kamloops that embraces the underdog role.

“We’re really starting to compete and get after it,” said Davis, joined by Dean Lemphers and Devin Halcrow to comprise the WolfPack’s Kamloops contingent.

“We want it. As long as we continue to buy in and get better every day, we have a chance to be where we want to be by the end of the year.”

Head coach Scott Clark has led the Pack to the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, the high-water mark campaign coming in 2015-2016, when TRU won Canada West silver and finished tied for seventh in the country.

The team posted an 8-12 record in 2016-2017 and was eliminated in the Canada West quarter-finals. TRU lost a first-round post-season matchup last season after recording an 11-9 mark.

U Sports coaches are sometimes open about where their team sits on a macro level.

Pet Hennelly said his WolfPack men’s volleyball team is entering a win-now phase, whereas TRU women’s hoops coach Scott Reeves told KTW his program is rebuilding.

Clark was asked about the cyclical position of his squad.

“Every year, nothing changes,” said Clark, the conference’s men’s basketball coach of the year for 2015-2016. “As the coach, your responsibility is to do the best job you can with the resources you’re provided.

“Those resources are the players that we have. Our job is to coach them, do the best job we can and we’ll see where that takes us.”

An improving regular-season record would seem to indicate a team on the rise, but Clark noted his charges are still in the early stages of learning how to win.

The WolfPack dropped an overtime decision to the visiting UNBC Timberwolves of Prince George in the pre-season, but prevailed in their next shot at OT, knocking off the Fraser Valley Cascades 69-64 in Abbotsford on Oct. 26.

“Both of those situations were learning situations,” said Clark, who’s been at TRU’s helm for nine years. “Our understanding of what we have to do and what behaviours are winning behaviours, we’re maybe starting to get a grasp of that. We’ve got some talent, but we’ve got a long ways to go still.”

Victoria (1-3) was ranked sixth and TRU (1-1) slotted in ninth among 17 teams in a pre-season Canada West coaches’ poll.

Two wins on home court would bring into question the Pack’s ranking, establish the Wolves’ Den as a tough place to play and perhaps prove Clark’s squad is more ready to win than expected.

“I always relish the home games,” Davis said. “I’ll never take games for granted, but, absolutely, as you get older, to continue to get the community and family support, it means lot.”

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