Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON – You know all those Canadian stereotypes?
Well, as Vasiliki Louka tells it, they're all true.
"The main thing I noticed is how polite Canadians are," says the native of Athens, Greece.
"If you do something people say sorry. They will try to help you – even if they don't have to, they will try to help you, and they will be really polite."
Louka, 22, is in her fifth year attending the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, where she captains the Timberwolves women's basketball team.
The university of a few thousand students in a city of less than 80,000 people has been home to Louka and her brother, UNBC men's basketball forward Vaggelis Loukas, since they came to Canada in 2014.
"Athens is a huge city with 5 million people and coming to such a small community (like) Prince George, the main difference is how the community is involved with the university and people," she says. "It's really nice to have everybody willing to help us, especially because we're (international students), so everybody's trying to make our living here easier.
"When you go back to (a city of) around 5 million people, they don't really care – they care about their own life, their own well-being, so they don't care about you," continues Louka. "So, I would say that Canadians are more polite and they're willing to help you."
A six-foot-four forward, Louka has had an indelible impact on UNBC women's basketball, which was embarking on just its third year in Canada West when she was recruited by coach Sergey Shchepotkin. Over Louka's first four seasons, the Timberwolves regular season win total went from two to three to six to nine. Heading into this weekend against Manitoba, the Timberwolves sit 8-4, with hopes of hosting a first round playoff series.
"One of the reasons I came here is that I wanted to help build this team and this program," says Louka, who is the conference's active all-time leading scorer with 1,358 points to her name. "Every year since I've come, we've had more wins and better players. We have really good internationals, and we have really good Canadians, so I feel like I kind of helped the program evolve and make it (attractive) to other players.
"This year I think we have the best team so far since I've been here, and I hope in the future that they will get better and better every year."
Initially, Louka enrolled in Environmental Studies, before changing her major to Public Administration and Community Development. She will graduate in spring 2019, and in the future hopes to use what she has learned in Canada to make a positive impact in her homeland.
"I really enjoy the part of being aware of what the public needs, what is good for the community, how you can help your community increase their well-being, and what steps you can help them take to have a better life," she says. "In Greece right now it's a really difficult situation, so if I can help somehow, (I want) to change that and help my country grow and help my community."
A thirst for learning is no small part of why Louka enrolled at UNBC, rather than remaining in Greece where she could play professionally.
"When I came here, the first rule that my teammates told me, the coaches told me, the athletics department (told me), is you are here first for your studies and then for basketball," says Louka, who has played for Greece's U18 and U20 women's national teams. "That's why I made the decision to come here, to combine my studies and basketball, because in Greece, other things (are prioritized) … and I wanted to get a good education."
Not that she has given any less than her all on the hardwood. Louka is averaging nearly a double-double over her Canada West career, and is the Timberwolves all-time leader in many categories, including points, rebounds, blocks, and minutes played. After finishing second in Canada West with 12.2 rebounds per game in 2017-18, she's currently leading the conference, averaging 13.4 rebounds per game.
UNBC reached the Canada West women's basketball post-season for the first time two years ago and returned last year, though is yet to win a playoff game. The Timberwolves set out to reach new heights this season, and when it came time to decide who would lead the team there, voted Louka as their captain.
"To know that your teammates trust you and want you to have this leadership outside and inside of the court is really important for me," she says.
"To be a captain wasn't my intention, but the team really wanted me to have that leadership because I've been here five years and helped the program change from the first year to right now, so I feel like I have a role to help them understand what (kind of a) team we are, that we are good team … and to encourage my teammates and let them know that they're good."
She can see the similarities between her evolving role as a team member and the community leadership skills that are the most vital to her field of study,
"It's good that I have experience in different cultures, so I can take the best things that I learned here in Canada and bring it back to my own country and try to apply it there," says Louka, who first plans to pursue professional basketball after graduating.
"It will definitely be beneficial because Canadians are really polite and they're really willing to help you and that's really important for me and my family. They've helped us since we've first lived here, so we really appreciate that."
The #SeniorSpotlight series features stories of Canada West student-athletes who are in their final season of university competition, as they work to cap off their university athletic careers, and prepare for what's next personally and professionally.