Print Edition: January 22, 2014
I sit in the front, awkwardly trying to find my way around a team that spends more time with each other than with their families.
We pull into our hotel in Kamloops, and the team begins to revive themselves from bus-slumber, shuddering in below-zero temperatures. This is northern B.C., in January. Coach Adam Friesen leaves the bus first and enters the hotel. The rest of the team trails behind, collecting their gear.
As the team enters the hotel and crowds around Friesen, eagerly awaiting the rooming assignments, I also nervously await finding out which of these men I will have to spend the next two nights with. As every pairing is announced, players joke with their roommates, poking fun at each other until only a few players remain. I’m told that I will room with “Big Nate.”
“Big Nate” is the 6’9, 260 lbs. centre standing to my left and looks intimidating as all hell. He’s new to the team and is on his first-ever road trip with the team. As we settle in, “Big Nate” discusses his American roots and how his life led up to him becoming part of the Cascades.
The next day the team wakes up early to prepare for their morning shoot-around prior to their evening game against the TRU WolfPack. The shoot-around begins just like any other practice for the team: They take their warm-up shots and the players talk to Friesen, formulating a gameplan to counter an offense that averages 40 per cent from three-point land: second best in the country.
I spend the morning working out with starting centre Jasper Moedt and his back-up Hudson Simon, the only first-year on the team. Moedt, returning to UFV this season, his third, has become the go-to player for Friesen’s squad. Moedt averages just under eight rebounds a game, good for 10th on the national leaderboard.
The morning shoot ends the same way every time: posts and guards go head-to-head in a three-point contest for bragging rights. The guards boast three-point threats Klaus Figueredo, Kevon Parchment, and Manny Dulay, while the posts counter with Kadeem Willis and Amrit Gill, not to be underestimated. The teams trade buckets, neck in neck in their friendly competition, but ultimately the posts get the W in both games. The guards are devastated.
Practice ends, and the team retreats to the locker room to change out of their gear, but not before rookie Hudson Simon claims he can beat coach Friesen in a 100-metre sprint. The terms of the race, about to become one of the most anticipated moments of the weekend, are debated, with Friesen arguing he deserves a head start.
Each road trip, everyone partakes in a pregame team dinner, where the players get a chance to bond. The dinner gets animated as soon as the NBA comes up. Parchment defends his Oklahoma City Thunder against coach Friesen’s San Antonio Spurs. As soon as guard Aaron McGowan’s hometown Toronto Raptors are brought up, he’s met with mockery. Friesen helpfully brings up the number of winning seasons the Raptors have been blessed with.
Then the team is forced to quickly transition from talkative and carefree dinner ambience to the more serious mood needed for gametime. The bus loads quickly and quietly: most of the players are lost in a world of music and thought, going through their pregame routines. The bus pulls into the TRU campus, and the players shuffle off, with some players going directly to the locker room and others staying to watch a portion of the Cascades women’s team’s game.
At this point Jeremy Moore comes in. One of the best trainers in the CIS, he needs to tend to all the medical needs of the team, working on a series of stretches to make sure the team is as prepared as possible for a hard 60 minutes. When coach Friesen decides to enter the locker room to make his final pre-game address, he focuses on what his team needs to do rather than the unpredictable performance the WolfPack will be giving.
UFV controls the game from the start. They lead for the whole game, at one point by as much as 20 points, but dropping as low as by three. Moedt once again shines, inspiring the team with a big 10-rebound performance, chipping in a game-high 21 points. The scoreboard says 74-65 but, as is always the case in a doubleheader, the Cascades can’t be satisfied.
“We came here for a sweep, not a split,” Moedt counsels, as the team returns to the locker room, celebrating.
And do it again
Consistency is important in sports; every coach asks for it. And so the next day’s schedule is (mostly) the same. The team knows it needs to prepare for a more prepared WolfPack squad, who have now seen what their opponents are made of.
Practice plays out like before, with one reversal (the guards dominate, taking four straight three-point games) and one additional drill (the coach-player challenge proposed the day before).
The terms of the race are final: 50 metres with a four-metre head start for coach Friesen. The team gathers around the TRU track, shouting over each other about who will end up victorious. Manny Dulay claims that if he had money he would bet on Friesen.
Friesen comes off the line fast, but Hudson is quick on his tail. Neither treats it like a mere contest, giving it their all, but as the pair approaches the finish line, Friesen narrowly pulls out the win, the head start proving to be the difference. Hudson immediately offers up the possibility Friesen received too big of a head start.
The second night’s team dinner plays host to a series of conversations about high school and college hoops as the TV screens above play the final minutes of the University of Kansas’ Canadian star Andrew Wiggins’ big win over Oklahoma State. But before long, the focus necessarily shifts back to the athletes in the room.
Game time round two
The doubleheader comes at one of the most crucial points in the season. A victory vaults them two games ahead of TRU, putting them in a great position to make first or second in the division, a guaranteed playoff spot. It isn’t going to be easy: TRU knows what is at stake too.
Friesen’s speech that drives home the urgency of the game, and the Cascades respond well. In an incredible first quarter they hold TRU to four points to their 24. They end up needing almost every one, as the WolfPack outscore the Cascades for the remainder of the game. While the final score reads 76-69, it doesn’t tell the whole story of the team’s challenges throughout the night.
Power forward Kadeem Willis makes one of the best plays of the game, stealing the ball on a cross-court pass and leaping with a big one-handed slam to punctuate the victory and cap off a great weekend for the Cascades.
As the Cascades gather on the bus to make their way back to warmer weather in Abbotsford, there’s one last sign of the team’s chemistry. Starters Figueredo, Parchment, and Willis serenade the bus with R&B renditions, dubbing themselves the R&B Boys and doing their best to keep the start of the long drive home from being a quiet one.
A look ahead
The TRU double victory was the last of three consecutive road trips for the Cascades men’s basketball team. They return home next weekend to play UBCO, who sit at a division worst 3-11.