UFV basketball: Craddock leads Golden Bears into Abbotsford, Cascades women ranked No. 1 in Canada
The men's basketball clash between the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades and the Alberta Golden Bears on Saturday evening in Abbotsford has the potential to evoke a lot of nostalgia and emotion.
But Barnaby Craddock, as it happens, isn't an overly nostalgic fellow.
Craddock spent five seasons (2007-12) as head coach of the Cascades before being hired away by the Edmonton program last June. Adam Friesen, Craddock's longtime assistant, was named his replacement on an interim basis.
Even apart from Craddock's return, it's a tantalizing match-up. The Cascades (7-3) are ranked No. 4 in the nation, while the No. 6-ranked Golden Bears (9-1) boast the best record in the Canada West conference.
But in a phone interview this week, Craddock downplayed the emotional overtones of the game.
"Right now, we're focused on the Trinity game (Friday) and then UFV Saturday," he said, resorting to a bit of classic coach-speak cliche. "It's a really tough road trip. Two good teams."
Pressed as to whether returning to his old stomping grounds had any special meaning for him, Craddock pointed out he's been through this former-coach-comes-home routine before – back in 2007-08, after UFV lured him away from Brandon University.
But after noting that "it's not a real nostalgic game for me," Craddock acknowledged he does keep a close eye on his former Cascades charges. In particular, he's proud of UFV's trio of fifth-year seniors – Kyle Grewal, Sam Freeman and James York.
"This is the year for UFV that we'd been building towards for five years," he noted. "I'm so impressed with those three. They carry themselves with class, they're playing very well, and I'm not surprised in the least."
From the UFV side of things, Friesen said he's sensed a bit of energy from his returning players at the prospect of Craddock coming to town.
"For the guys who were here last year, there is some excitement because of that familiarity," he said. "But they're also the top team in Canada West, and that brings an excitement in itself.
"We only have five guys returning, and the rest are new. So overall, our excitement is for the Alberta Golden Bears coming to town."
Craddock said it was tough to leave his players at UFV – particularly coming off a fourth-place finish at nationals in 2011-12 – but the move to a bigger university with a more established athletic department made sense for him career-wise. Overall, he's enjoyed taking on a new challenge.
"I think we're pretty fortunate, to be honest, to be 9-1 – we've had some unbelievable injuries," he said.
"It's been a learning process for both the athletes and myself. I'm learning how these guys like to play, and they need to understand how I like to coach. I think we're starting to become more and more comfortable with each other."
CASCADES WOMEN RANKED NO. 1 IN THE NATION
UFV's first home basketball games of the second semester include a Friday night doubleheader vs. the Saskatchewan Huskies (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) followed by Saturday's games against Alberta (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.).
The Cascades women are celebrating another high water mark in a breakthrough season – they ascended to the No. 1 spot in the national rankings on Tuesday.
Al Tuchscherer's squad didn't play over the Christmas break, but they benefited from a ragged performance by the two-time defending national champion Windsor Lancers at an exhibition tournament at Concordia. The Lancers dropped two of three games and slid down to No. 3 in the CIS poll, opening the door for UFV and new No. 2 Regina to each move up one spot.
Head coach Tuchscherer, whose team is 9-1, said his players can take a lot of pride in what they've accomplished, but noted it's important not to get too caught up in a paper ranking.
"They've done some special things that are firsts for the program, and I'm always a little worried about how they're going to react to that," he said. "Are they still going to be really hungry?
"But they always are. They're a focused group, and there's good leadership there."
Saskatchewan (5-5) and Alberta (6-4) are two traditional powerhouses, and Tuchscherer said that playing two tough opponents on the same weekend is good preparation for the post-season.
"Every time you play against them, you need to be on your game. If you're not, they're talented enough and skilled enough, and they're very well-coached, and they'll take advantage," he said.
"You've got to put two games together in a row, and it kind of simulates playoffs a little bit, which I think is really important for us."