Print Edition: March 13, 2013
Summer 2012 was not the most comfortable time for UFV’s men’s basketball team. Coming off its most successful season in school history, the program had suffered the unexpected loss of head coach Barnaby Craddock to the University of Alberta. Even worse, he’d taken two returning starters and several rookie recruits with him over the Rocky Mountains. There was suddenly a significant void left in the team as well as in the coaching staff. A squad that was previously expected to be national contenders looked to be in disarray, and many were predicting they would not even qualify for playoffs.
In the wake of this mess, newly-minted head coach Adam Friesen (formerly assistant coach to Craddock) was left in charge of picking up the pieces and finding a way to put this team back on track. Friesen was not left with bare cupboards, but with the prime recruiting season come and gone he had the daunting task of filling significant holes in his lineup with less than a month until preseason began.
By September, CIS basketball fans had forgotten about the Cascades, who were now expected to be a non-factor in a highly competitive Canada West league.
But a surprisingly successful preseason during which UFV knocked off several big names led to an early national ranking and a target on the Cascades’ back once again.
The season saw mixed results. When the squad was healthy the Cascades looked unbeatable. The team’s seniors did a phenomenal job of embracing leadership, and the role players seemed to know exactly what was expected of them. Still, injuries plagued the team throughout the year as Kyle Grewal and Sam Freeman (both seniors) watched numerous games from the bench.
Outside of injuries, the team ran into other personnel issues. At the start of the second half of the season, second-year guard Jordan Blackman was caught in violation of a team rule. After a short mediation session Blackman and the team parted ways. Following this, an administrative error and miscommunication led to second-year guard Nathan Kendall playing while ineligible. The team had to forfeit two wins and temporarily had its playoffs hopes put in jeopardy. How did the team respond? The Cascades confidently secured a win on the same night they were informed of the ineligibility issue – ensuring themselves a playoff berth.
To top off a gritty regular season, the UFV squad took to the road for playoffs and managed a two-games-to-one series win over the University of Saskatchewan, largely without the help of leading scorer Sam Freeman who suffered a broken rib early in the series. To win a road series is a rare feat in the Canada West; it’s so rare, in fact, that over the last four years the home team has won 15 of the 16 played. This year’s UFV squad has the only road win, a remarkable accomplishment by any standard.
In the next round of the playoffs is where the Cascades finally saw their season come to a close. Playing at UBC, without Freeman who was still out with a broken rib, the squad gave a good run but in the end fell in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
In a season where adversity seemed to be their calling card, it felt as though there was nothing that could stop this squad. Although many notable individuals could be credited for this team’s success, no one is more deserving of credit than the man who picked them up and managed to take them from a team in disarray to a team on the cusp of making the national tournament.
Friesen brought in high quality recruits in a last minute situation, ensured that each player knew their respective roles, and had the team buy into a collective vision for achievement. For a rookie coach to achieve this level of success in their first season as bench boss is something that is rarely, if ever, seen in the CIS.
Friesen has all but ensured himself continuing employment with the university, as it would be a foolish move to hire anybody else (Friesen is currently on a one year interim position contract). As a young coach with many local connections, Friesen seems to have found himself a home at UFV.
In all likelihood Friesen will be announced as the next head coach of UFV men’s basketball in the coming month. Still, no matter the outcome of the coming hiring process, one thing is for sure. Coach Friesen can hang his hat on a very successful 2012-2013 season.