Grewal’s grown into a star with Cascades

UFV men's basketball team is hosting a pair of exhibition games vs. NCAA opponents, starting Saturday vs. Cal State Northridge

UFV power forward Kyle Grewal drives to the hoop against the Carleton Ravens during CIS national championship action in Halifax last season. After spending a month this summer playing on an Australian touring team in China

UFV power forward Kyle Grewal drives to the hoop against the Carleton Ravens during CIS national championship action in Halifax last season. After spending a month this summer playing on an Australian touring team in China

As the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team ramps up its preseason preparations, Kyle Grewal boasts a what-I-did-with-my-summer-vacation story to trump all others.

The Cascades’ 6’6″ power forward spent a month with an Australian touring team in China, playing 12 games in 11 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

“It was really cool,” said Grewal, who landed a spot on the Aussie squad thanks to a recommendation from former UFV head coach Barnaby Craddock. “We saw a lot of the touristy things, like the Great Wall.

“And after the games, they treated us like we were NBA superstars. They were coming up with cameras, taking photos, trying to get our jerseys from us. Our warm-up tops got stolen after one game – they just wanted something. It was like how I would have been at an NBA game as a young kid, just in awe. It was a humbling experience.”

Grewal’s Chinese excursion figures to stand him in good stead as he prepares for his fifth and final season of eligibility with the Cascades.

He’s truly become a pillar of the program, his tenure on campus having spanned three head coaches. Grewal was recruited by Pat Lee out of Surrey’s Enver Creek Secondary in 2006, and then stuck around through the Craddock era and now will play for Adam Friesen, who replaced Craddock after he was hired away by the University of Alberta in June.

A pair of redshirt seasons extended Grewal’s Cascades career – a broken wrist prior snuffed his rookie campaign (2006-07), and a torn ACL in his right knee sidelined him for the 2010-11 season.

“To me, it’s kind of funny,” said the 24-year-old, who is set to graduate in the spring with a kinesiology major and a biology minor. “People make jokes about it – ‘You’ve been here forever, what is this, your 20th year?’

“I didn’t want to have to redshirt those seasons, but honestly, it’s worked out for the best.”

Grewal emerged as a legit CIS star at the national championships in Halifax last season, highlighted by a Hurculean performance (35 points, 14 rebounds) in UFV’s 89-86 loss to St. Francis Xavier in the bronze medal game.

He’s as versatile an offensive threat as you’ll find at the power forward spot, with a polished post game and the ability to knock down the three-pointer.

Watching him play now, it’s incredible to note how far he’s come since he was a raw rookie.

“He’s gotten there the old-fashioned way,” said Friesen, who worked closely with Grewal as an assistant coach for five years under Craddock. “The guy, he’s a worker. He really took the challenge of wanting to get better.

“My first year here, for the first month or two, we never really dribbled or shot (at a hoop). We just did form shooting against the wall. He literally started right at the bare fundamentals of the game of basketball. He was humble enough to start there, and he built his game up. He didn’t skip any steps.”

It’s been an interesting off-season for the Cascades. With all five starters set to return, it looked like they’d be the Canada West favourites this year. But then Craddock departed, and stars Joel Friesen and Jasper Moedt elected to follow him to the Golden Bears.

“It sucks, right?” Grewal acknowledged. “But at the end of the day, it is what it is. We’ve got a bit of a chip on our shoulder now.

“I think people around the country are like, ‘Oh, UFV might be done.’ But I honestly believe we’re stronger than last year. I’m a big fan of Adam. He’s going to put everything he has into it, and we’ve got some great recruits.”

Indeed, new bench boss Friesen has acted quickly to fill the void left by the departed players. He’s added four newcomers, including three from the Toronto area – point guard Aaron McGowan, wing Kevon Parchment and post Hudson Simon. Andy Khaira, a centre from Surrey, is also on board, joining a trio of Craddock-recruited rookies from the B.C. high school ranks – Manny Dulay (Tamanawis), De’Sean Monsanto (Walnut Grove) and Luke Morris (Mission).

The Cascades men’s hoopsters begin the preseason on Saturday, as they host the Cal State Northridge Matadors, an NCAA Div. I program. Another NCAA squad, the Eastern Washington Eagles, visits on Sept. 10. Both games tip off at 7 p.m. at the Envision Athletic Centre.

“We have so many new faces,” Friesen noted. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get out on the floor together, and just have fun and work hard.”