Just when Jesse Vissia thought his playing days were over, the fledgling Okanagan College Coyotes basketball team gave him a new lease on life, both on and off the court.
Vissia, who hails from Keremeos, was invited to try out for the team by Coyotes head coach Dino Gini, who previously coached him in club play with the UBCO Jr. Heat.
Although he hadn’t played any serious ball for a while, Vissia quickly regained his old form and won a starting spot in the line up.
But there was much more to making the team for the Similkameen Secondary grad.
“It’s huge, awesome and it’s motivated me to go to school and get some more education,” said Vissia, 21, who is enrolled in the water technology program at the Kelowna campus.
“I’m loving it, it’s just such a great opportunity that our coaching staff has brought to Okanagan College.
“After high school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with basketball and didn’t have any solid opportunities to go play post secondary anywhere, so this has been amazing.”
The first-year Coyotes are playing exhibition games this season and have all but been assured of a spot in 2018/19 in the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PacWest) as the eighth men’s team.
So far, the squad has compiled an impressive 12-win, six-loss record that has included many games against PacWest teams, some of which are ranked nationally.
“It’s really been better than I thought. We’re 18 games deep, but you just never know going into a season how your going to do,” said Vissia, who has a won a number of awards for his play over the years. “We’re all a close knit on the team which makes being a part of the team that much better. It’s an experience in itself that you can’t get anywhere else.”
And his coach couldn’t be happier with his point guard’s style of play.
“Jesse is just an awesome player. He’s tenacious on defence, he’s got a great shot, and moves extremely well without the ball. He’s a great asset to our team,” said Gini. “I recognized that ability in him when I coached him in club play and now he’s a little older and a little stronger, a high IQ, great teammate, so coachable and so respectful.”
While the Coyotes are based out of the Kelowna Campus, they have played exhibition games in Penticton, including two last month, with more scheduled for the future including a four to six team tournament next summer.
“The Penticton campus is just such a great facility — incredible gym and weight room. It really is under utilized so we’re definitely going to play there,” said Gini.
The games were well attended in Penticton and the coach estimated a recent game in Kelowna attracted nearly 1,000 paying customers.
Gini, who has more than a quarter century of coaching hoops under his belt, is the key mover and shaker in bringing basketball to Okanagan College.
When he found out the college did not have funding for a program, he wasn’t going to let that stop him from pursuing his passion, so he went out and formed the non-profit Kelowna College Basketball Society.
Money from sponsors covers everything from jerseys to basketballs, and coaches donate their time.
“So now we have an agreement between the society and Okanagan College to run these programs (men’s and women’s)” said Gini. “When I approached them (college), I said there is a void here in the Okanagan. We’re losing kids, and when they come back, there’s nothing for them and there’s a market here for us to start a program.
“I’m trying to build a legacy and leave it for the young coaches and mentor some of those young coaches, as well, and I know we can make it a success.”