By Ben Lypka, Abbotsford News
The basketball journey for Yale Secondary grad Joel Friesen is moving to the next level – he’s now officially a professional.
Friesen signed with the brand new Niagara River Lions of the National Basketball League of Canada and jump-starts his pro career this December.
He said he’s excited about joining the team and feels blessed for the chance to do what he loves in his home country.
“As a young player you always think about going pro, but you think you have to go overseas,” he said. “To be able to stay in Canada is a blessing. I’m proud to stay here and continue to play ball and make my dream come true.”
Friesen has a storied basketball history in the Fraser Valley. He played his Grade 10 ball with Robert Batemen Secondary but then transferred to Yale in Grade 11. Yale won AAA provincials in his Grade 12 season back in 2008 and Friesen was named most valuable player of the tournament.
After heavy recruitment from several Western Canadian CIS teams and a few American schools, Friesen decided to stay close to home and joined the then-UCFV Cascades. He enjoyed success with the Cascades but his shining moment was a memorable buzzer-beater back on Feb. 25, 2012.
With the Cascades down 68-66 to the Lethbridge Pronghorns and only seconds remaining, Friesen connected on a three-point shot that won the game 69-68 and sent the UFV men’s team to the Canada West Final Four for the first time in the history of the school.
“It was absolutely a career highlight,” he said. “That buzzer-beater is pretty irreplaceable. I still get butterflies from watching it on YouTube – I bet half the views on that video are mine.”
Friesen was named a Canada West first team all-star in 2011-12, but then followed UFV coach Barnaby Craddock to Edmonton and the University of Alberta. He won a Canada West championship in 2013 with U of A.
He finished up his athletic eligibility this past spring, and after receiving offers from teams in Japan, Germany and Norway, chose to remain in Canada. Friesen, who now lives in Edmonton, said he’s willing to do whatever his Niagara coaches ask of him.
“I can play wherever I’m needed,” he said. “I was a combo guard my whole career and can do whatever it takes to help fill in the gaps. I like to be considered a glue guy and a leader. If they need me to score I will, and if they need me to guard the other team’s best player I can do that, too.”
The 25-year-old hopes to have another five or six years of basketball in him and is open to exploring basketball options outside of North America in the coming years.
Training camp for the Lions starts on Dec. 1, with the regular season tipping off later that month.