When he was hired as interim head coach of the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team last summer, Adam Friesen knew he’d have one season to make a good first impression.
It was a bit of a pressure cooker to start with, certainly, but he didn’t know it would devolve into a full-fledged trial by fire.
Friesen’s Cascades navigated wave after wave of adversity from the time that former bench boss Barnaby Craddock departed to take the helm of the Alberta Golden Bears last June.
To begin with, veteran starters Joel Friesen and Jasper Moedt transferred to Alberta to join Craddock (Moedt has since returned and will play for UFV again this fall).
The team also weathered a litany of injuries, most notably to fifth-year stars Kyle Grewal and Sam Freeman.
To top it all off, the Cascades had to forfeit two victories late in the season due to an inadvertent eligibility violation. Their record sank from 12-10 to 10-12 as a result, and they had to re-clinch their playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season.
But through it all, Friesen and the Cascades persevered – they upset the top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies on the road in the first round of the playoffs, and came within one win of a trip to nationals, ultimately succumbing to the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West semifinals.
UFV rewarded Friesen on Tuesday – in a move that had been in the works for weeks, they officially removed the interim tag and signed him to a two-year contract.
“The first year definitely threw a lot at myself and at our team,” Friesen noted with a chuckle. “But maybe in some way, it turned out to be somehow beneficial for me. There was no time, from when I got to job to when the season was over, for me to ever be complacent with getting it (the job) . . . It was just a constant go-go-go.”
Friesen, a Yale Secondary graduate whose father Al coaches the Yale Lions senior boys team, said it’s a thrill to coach in his hometown.
“Just to coach at the university level in Canada was always the dream,” he said. “To have the opportunity to do it in Abbotsford with my friends and family here, it’s extra special.”
Cascades athletic director Rocky Olfert’s decision to stick with Friesen rather than solicit outside applications speaks to his confidence that the incumbent is the right man for the job.
“You talk about throwing everything at a coach in one year – he faced it all,” Olfert marvelled. “Winning a playoff series and getting to the Final Four, I’m not sure how many people would have given him a chance to do that.
“Adam showed great leadership, and he’s proven he can coach at this level. He’s still and young coach and has things to learn, but I’m really happy with the direction Adam has taken the program.”
Olfert said Friesen is passionate about representing the university at the highest level.
“He’s a player’s coach, too,” Olfert said. “He’ll bend over backwards for his athletes on and off the court. He wants them to succeed in the classroom and do well in all areas of their lives, and when you have a coach with that kind of heart, it goes a long way. They play hard for him.”