Lasting impressions

Greek siblings and other UNBC basketball graduates helped in evolution of programs

While his graduating teammates on the UNBC Timberwolves men's basketball team consider their options to enter the job market or pursue masters studies, 24-year-old Vaggelis Loukas has similar ambitions.

But not before he answers the call of duty to serve his country.

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When his U Sports Canada West conference career is over and he completes his environmental studies degree in resource management this spring, he'll return to his home in Athens, Greece, and join the army.

"It's mandatory for Greek male citizens and it's nine months, thankfully, and after that I'll probably go for a masters degree," said Loukas. "If I continue doing well in school and my grades are where they are now I'll be able to get accepted somewhere in Europe and after my masters, who knows, I might come back here and try to find a job."

The T-wolves found a job for the six-foot-five Loukas soon after he arrived in Prince George alongside his sister, Vasiliki Louka, who would go on to become one of the best in the country playing for the T-wolves women's basketball team.

Loukas needed just four seasons to become UNBC's all-time career rebounding leader and he added another 163 boards this season to finish with 572 in five seasons. He's also been deadly-accurate with the ball in his hands, this season finishing second in Canada West with a 63.6 per cent shooting average (66-for-99) from the field.

Loukas and his teammates Jovan Leamy, Austin Chandler and James Agyeman, as well as women's team members Louka and Abby Gibb, were the centre of attention Saturday as UNBC paid tribute to their accomplishments on the court on seniors night.

"I love Canada, I learned a lot and I really like the country and the people," said Loukas. "Five years went by really fast and I have a lot of great memories - I definitely grew here as a person and a player and I'm really happy I made the trip and came here to be part of the Timberwolves family.

"It's a big transition coming from overseas to here, different culture, different weather, different language, different everything and I'm happy we both made it and we survived and I'm glad my sister was here. I can't imagine my life here without her. She was there every time for me and I was there for her, I hope, to support her and we picked each other up when we were at our lows."

Loukas and the T-wolves (9-11) finished 11th and will try to extend their season when they open the Canada West playoffs tonight in Abbotsford in a one-game showdown against the Fraser Valley Cascades (13-7, fifth place).

His 22-year-old sister Vasiliki hopes to use her five years as a dominant Canada West forward as a springboard to pro basketball somewhere in Europe. She ranks second all-time in career double-doubles with 17, her 182 defensive rebounds are fifth-best in a Canada West career and she's ninth in the league in rebounding average (12.7) and total rebounds (253). It will be impossible, at least in the near future, for the T-wolves to replace their "Greek Freak."

"It was a really good experience to be here five years and I'm going to miss Prince George," said Louka, who collected more than 1,500 points in five years. "I'm kind of sad that I don't have one more year, but I helped this program to grow and they helped me to grow as a player and it's real nice I finish my career with a win and playoffs."

Vasiliki and Vaggelis were both integral components who changed the face of UNBC basketball. Their teams have made the U Sports playoffs in three of the five years.

"My first year was really tough for me, coming here with no good English, trying to adapt to this environment and that's why having my brother here was a really good thing for me," Louka said. "I don't know if I could have done all this without Vaggelis. We used each other to learn and I couldn't ask for a better brother."

Gibb's parents and brothers from Calgary were on hand to watch her play her last home game Saturday. She began her U Sports career playing for her hometown Mount Royal University Cougars and was there for two seasons before she transferred to St. Mary's University in Calgary. She picked up more than 300 points and 100 assists in her U Sports career and in her final season at UNBC totalled 52 assists and 18 steals.

"Abby is the sweetest person I've ever met," T-wolves head coach Sergey Shchepotkin told the Northern Sport Centre crowd during the seniors ceremony between games Saturday. "She's kind, but on the court she's tough."

The UNBC women (11-9) just missed out on hosting the first playoff game in the team's seven-year Canada West history. They'll take on the eighth-place Trinity Western Spartans (12-8) Friday night in Langley in a one-game playoff.

T-wolves forward Chandler joined the team four years ago but was nursing an ankle injury and red-shirted his first season with the team. He majored in international business and picked up where he left off as a high school student in Wenatchee, Wash., becoming involved as a volunteer basketball coach for Prince George Special Olympics. The players he coached gave him a demonstration of their skills Saturday in an intramural game at halftime. For Chandler, the decision to come north of the border to finish his basketball eligibility was life-changing.

In two seasons the six-foot-six forward became the T-wolves' all-time leader in blocked shots (42). He played all 20 games this season, averaging 24.6 minutes per game.

"I was injured when I got here and they took a chance on me and my experience at UNBC has been really good," said Chandler, 23, who played two years of junior college in Wenatchee. "With the community's support, the coaching staff, and everybody around me who's really pushed me to be better in the classroom, on the court, in the classroom, with Special Olympics, it's all around been good and I'll miss it here."

So will Leamy, a quicksilver guard from Toronto who led Canada West in steals this season with 61 and now ranks second behind Loukas on the T-wolves career list with 82 steals in his two years at UNBC. He was in the top 10 in Canada West scoring all season and finished ninth with an 18.1-point average.

"It was what I needed, coming here, I just needed to be in a smaller city where there aren't as many distractions and I could focus on what's important," said Leamy. "The city and the school and the program has shown me nothing but love since I stepped off the airplane into Prince George and I'm just thankful for the opportunity they've given me to play basketball."

Leamy fed off the UNBC crowds which are well-known around the league for getting behind their teams.

"I love playing in this building, the energy in the crowd is just amazing," Leamy said. "They get me going and I'll always remember playing here and cherishing it."

Leamy's arrival with the T-wolves coincided with UNBC signing Agyeman, Leamy's childhood buddy from Toronto. They've known each other since they were nine years old and both majored in marketing.

"I told coach (Todd Jordan) about him," said Agyeman. "We grew up in the same neighbourhood, played on the same club teams."

Agyeman, transferred from Wilfred Laurier University and quickly became a household name as UNBC's starting point guard, racking up 213 assists in just two seasons to pass Billy Cheng as the all-time team leader. He also finished in the top-10 in points, rebounds, free throws and steals.

Agyeman, who helped fund the Timberwolves Student Athletic Society, took UNBC rookie guard Colburn Pearce under his wing and went out of his way to teach the 19-year-old Duchess Park graduate how to adjust to the university game.

"It feels good after all that hard work I put from transferring," said Agyeman. "Before I came here I was lost and confused, so I took the risk to come out here and made history. I'm proud of myself, taking the risk. Coming out here from Toronto builds character, getting to know people you don't know, just a forced change in life and it worked out for the better. I came out of my shell."

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