Building a case for why he feels Joel Friesen is primed for a monster season, University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball coach Barnaby Craddock casually asserts that the third-year swingman “isn’t high school Joel” anymore.
Make no mistake, “high school Joel” was pretty impressive. In 2008, as a senior at Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary, Friesen led the Lions to the B.C. AAA title and earned MVP honours along the way.
But whereas “high school Joel” was a single-minded scorer, “university Joel” can influence a game in so many more ways.
“He’s starting to play an all-around basketball game, after me yelling at him for three seasons,” Craddock explained with a chuckle.
“He’s gotten a lot better at penetration off the bounce and attacking people, and as athletic as he is at 6’4″, he’s a real tough guard. He’s got the ability to shoot the three-pointer, contribute with defensive rebounding, and block shots from behind like LeBron James. He’s bringing a different element to our team. We definitely see some big things coming.”
One could argue that Friesen made the leap to stardom last spring, when he averaged 22.3 points per game (shooting 57 per cent from both the field and the three-point line) in an epic best-of-three playoff series with Trinity Western. The Cascades gave the heavily favoured Spartans a scare before falling in the third game to the eventual national silver medallists.
But Craddock believes Friesen is capable of taking another step forward this season, and Friesen concurs.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way,” Friesen said. “It’s weird to watch my own game tape from every year – seeing that I used to take that shot, or jump off one foot in that situation. I feel like my game is more under control, and I’ve focused more defensively.”
The process of moulding Friesen into a multi-faceted impact player, as Craddock alluded to, involved some tough love.
“It’s not easy to have such a successful high school season, and then have someone tell you you’ve got so much more work to do (as a university rookie),” Friesen said, reflecting on his maturation.
“It’s good, though. It’s humbling. I’m just really glad I was coachable enough to listen. Seeing the improvements now, it’s a good feeling, for sure.”
Friesen’s playoff performance vs. TWU earned him a measure of notice at the national level, as he narrowly missed being selected to Canada’s team for the World University Games in China. He was the first alternate for the Canadian squad – head coached by UBC’s Kevin Hanson, with Craddock serving an assistant – which surprised many by winning a silver medal.
“I tried to take a positive out of it, because it was a really good accomplishment just to make alternate and be recognized,” Friesen said. “But I also feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, because I have something to prove – especially on the UBC weekend.”
Friesen is hoping this is the year the Cascades break through and win a playoff series or two. There’s plenty of reason for optimism – starting post players Jasper Moedt and Kyle Grewal are back after sitting out last year with knee injuries, and UFV (1-1) is ranked No. 8 in the nation after splitting a pair of road games at Thompson Rivers University last weekend.
“By no means do we think we’re anything but a team with good chemistry with something to prove,” Craddock cautioned. “As long as Joel and the boys keep playing like that, we’ll be happy with however things finish.”
The Cascades host their first regular season home games this weekend – Friday vs. the Manitoba Bisons (8 p.m.) and Saturday vs. the Winnipeg Wesmen (7 p.m.).