Cascades to face Spartans in basketball showcase at AESC

UFV's Sam Freeman drives to the hoop against Lance Verhoeff and Calvin Westbrook of the Trinity Western Spartans. Freeman and the Cascades host the Spartans in a showcase game at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre in January 2012.
— image credit: John Morrow file photo

Ice is the most familiar sporting surface at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC), but for one evening early next year, hardwood will take precedence.

It's part of an ambitious plan unveiled on Wednesday by the University of the Fraser Valley athletic department to take university basketball to new heights in this city.

On Jan. 28, 2012, the Cascades will host the Trinity Western University Spartans in a Canada West regular season doubleheader at the AESC. The UFV and TWU women's hoopsters will tip things off at 5 p.m., followed by the men's teams at 7 p.m.

Holding a hoops showcase at the AESC – which seats just over 7,000 – represents a massive increase in scale for the Cascades, whose average attendance for home games at the Envision Athletic Centre is numbered in hundreds rather than thousands.

But organizers are excited about the event's potential, and hope it will grow into an annual affair.

"It has the potential to be great," enthused David Kent, UFV's sports information and marketing co-ordinator. "When it comes to something big like this, it piques everyone's interest."

Kent is the driving force behind the initiative, and he boasts extensive experience launching large-scale events.

Kent worked for the Carleton University athletic department in Ottawa before coming on board with the Cascades last year. At Carleton, he set in motion the Capital Hoops Classic – a game between the Carleton Ravens and the Ottawa Gee Gees men's basketball teams at Scotiabank Place, the home of the NHL's Ottawa Senators.

The inaugural Capital Hoops Classic in 2007 drew 9,720 fans, well beyond expectations, and the event is now an annual fixture in Ottawa.

"You had your fans who loved basketball, you had people who wanted to cheer on their school, and you had people who looked at it and said, 'Wow. Let's try this,'" Kent said, explaining the Capital Classic's runaway success.

"One year, in a blizzard, we still had 9,000 fans. And we don't usually get those out here (in B.C.).

"I can't see this failing, let's put it that way. If we get 3,500 (fans), I'd be tickled pink."

Kent hopes to use the UFV-TWU game as a springboard to host a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national women's basketball championship in the future.

"I think we would be a prime candidate, if we had all our I's and T's dotted and crossed, to win a CIS national championship bid," he said.

Al Tuchscherer, head coach of the Cascades women's basketball team, said the Langley-based Spartans are a natural choice as the opponent in the hoops showcase.

"I think it has to be Trinity," he said. "It's a good rivalry . . . Hatred is too strong a word, but there's some feelings there, for sure.

"This (event) is something that's unique in this area, and it will be an incredible experience to be a part of."

The UFV-TWU basketball rivalry is particularly intense on the men's side. In 2009-10, the Cascades earned two late-season wins over the Spartans to edge them for the Pacific Division's final playoff spot. Trinity Western returned the favour in 2010-11, eliminating Fraser Valley in a first-round playoff series that went the full three games. The Spartans went on to win silver at nationals.

TWU men's coach Scott Allen said he's a big fan of the concept of holding games at the AESC.

"I've been really jealous of the games that have gone on at Scotiabank Place with Carleton and Ottawa over the years, and seeing how big it can be," Allen said. "Having a group of people take initiative on this is amazing for basketball in the whole Lower Mainland, and even farther reaching.

"I look at it as a way of co-operating (between UFV and TWU). I know we're competing, but we're really making each other better in the off-season by working hard and trying to compete with the bigger schools, and I think we're doing it."

"It's nice to see the City of Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley support this, and showcase university basketball for the evening," echoed UFV men's bench boss Barnaby Craddock. "Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the Fraser Valley, with tremendous talent coming through the youth levels. To see it all focused here in a big venue, I hope it's a sign of things to come."

Trinity athletic director Murray Hall said that with both local basketball programs on the upswing, the event could set a new Canada West regular season attendance record. Research is still being done to nail down exactly what the current record might be, but it's believed that UBC's War Memorial Gym, with a maximum capacity of about 2,800, would be the standard.

"The players love playing in a big venue like this," Hall said. "An event like this just makes sense."

Tickets for the event go on sale at the AESC box office and at on July 22. Seats will be $15 each, or $20 for a spot in the student fan zones behind the baskets.

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