Traore, Ventoniemi stand tall for PHCC men’s hoops

February 1, 2016


MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Consider them the international men of mystery.

Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) men’s basketball players Jacob Traore (Poitiers, France) and Henri Ventoniemi (Finland) are the Patriots’ twin towers in the post this season. The international duo with 6-foot-8 height or better has formed a recognizable connection, helping PHCC achieve a 15-2 record and a national top-10 NJCAA, Division II ranking through January.

During an unbeaten start to 2016, the Patriots have used rebounding over the last few games to continue their six-game winning streak. The 10th-ranked men have recorded no fewer than 14 offensive rebounds over their last three games and averaged over 40 rebounds per during a five-win January. The upward trend on the glass has increased the team’s average to nearly 35 boards per game.

Traore (6-foot-8) has averaged 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds over his last six. while Ventoniemi (6-foot-9) has averaged 9 and 4.6 over his last five. He’s also scored in double figures over his last three games in wins over Pitt Community College, Louisburg College and Richard Bland College.

“With me and Henri, we’re both 6-foot-8 or above and can intimidate people. So we just have to stay aggressive and rebound,” Traore said. “The fact that we’re tall and big helps us out in the paint. If (a team) tries to trap us, it allows the guards to do something.”

The duo’s ability to control teams on the interior has opened up the Patriots’ guards to work off the post and generate offense. The natural flow has led to an average of 85 points per game over the last four.

“The guards have played a big part for us,” Ventoniemi said. “Usually when they’re able to drive it leaves us open for layups and that’s a big part of our game.”

Traore, a sophomore, was the lone international on the Patriots roster last season and is now joined down low by not only another foreign player, but one that has equal or greater height. PHCC head coach Kenny Wade said he’s noticed a bond form between the two throughout the season, held tightly by their international status. He added that Traore helped ease Ventoniemi’s transition as a freshman and gives him the perfect complimentary player to work Wade’s system.

Their size, Wade said, makes them a valuable cog in the team’s overall scheme both offensively and defensively.

“First of all it’s their size, they are not two small guys,” Wade said. “Coming from an international country they bring a different work ethic because of some of the things they had to go through back home. It shows on the court with their fight and how they keep battling.”

The will to fight and battle develops in practice, Wade said, which gives the players a chance to battle each other one-on-one. Traore added that it took him some time last season to adjust to the physicality of the American brand of basketball. He’s tried to teach his fellow big man how to be mentally tough and grind through the physical nature of 40 minutes.

Wade added that his assistant coach Frankie Harris is another key element to the pair’s growth. A successful college forward in his time, Harris helps replicate game-style physicality during practice. He’s also able to teach them how to use their size to be better effective either in rebounding or scoring off the block and in the paint.

“In Finland we use a lot more sets and try to execute the game from a different angle,” Ventoniemi said. (In the States) the game is more physical and the tempo is much faster.”

Traore said the team’s rebounding upswing lately is a collective effort. Everything the Patriots look to do starts with defense. Whether it be blocks, steals or rebounds, Traore and Ventoniemi are there to fill the stat sheet accordingly.

The freshman said he’s been active at the No. 4 spot on the floor, and with Traore at the 5, that’s helped open up his midrange game. Being able to improve the range of his shooting and remain multi-dimensional at his position, Ventoniemi said Traore opens up for better high-percentage shots.

“They do look for each other out there, because when we run a certain set and it’s for them to look for each other they do,” Wade said.

With a difficult Region X schedule still to play, it’s assured both bigs won’t back down from any opponent that gets in their way.


Filed under: Men's Basketball