On Feb. 25, Joel Friesen hit one of the biggest shots in UFV basketball history – a buzzer-beating three-pointer to lift the Cascades to a 69-68 win over the Lethbridge Pronghorns and into the Canada West Final Four.
In that euphoric moment, few people – including Friesen himself – could have imagined that it would be the last shot the Abbotsford native would hit at the Envision Athletic Centre as a member of the Cascades.
But on June 4, head coach Barnaby Craddock departed UFV to take over the men’s basketball program at the University of Alberta, and Friesen told The News this week that he’s decided to follow him to Edmonton.
The 6’4” guard will have to redshirt the upcoming season due to transfer rules, but he’ll be eligible to make his Golden Bears debut in 2013-14.
Friesen, a Canada West first team all-star last season after leading the Cascades with 16.8 points per game, described his departure as a gut-wrenching process.
“My heart and soul is in this community,” the 21-year-old said, thanking his former teammates, teachers and coaches for building into his life over the years. “It’s a lot tougher to even think about (transferring) than most people would think.
“I just tried to weigh out everything that I think is going to be the best opportunity for me to be successful as more than just a basketball player, but as a man and in my future career past university.”
When Friesen signed with the Cascades after helping the Yale Lions win a B.C. AAA high school title in 2008, he was arguably the most highly touted recruit in the program’s history. Over the course of three seasons at UFV, he grew into a bona fide star at the university level – a hometown boy who made good.
His exit strips a key component from a Cascades team which had been expected to contend for a national title after a breakthrough 2011-12 campaign. UFV won the Canada West silver medal and finished fourth at CIS nationals in Halifax, and all five starters were set to return.
Friesen said Craddock’s departure caused him to evaluate his options. His goal is to become a high school teacher, teaching phys-ed and/or French, but he’d been unable to switch from UFV’s bachelor of arts program to kinesiology after applying multiple times.
At the U of A, he’s already been accepted into the faculty of education.
Friesen, who has two years of basketball eligibility left, emphasized that his departure shouldn’t be interpreted as dissatisfaction with the hiring of former assistant coach Adam Friesen (no relation) to replace Craddock.
“Adam has been a huge part of my basketball life,” Friesen said, alluding to the fact that his game matured at Yale Secondary under the tutelage of Adam and his father Al. “I know he’s going to do a great job (at UFV).”
Adam Friesen said he tried to convince Joel to stay on the basis of his familiarity with the team and the quality of it. He noted that with Friesen out of the picture, fellow Yale Secondary alums Jordan Blackman and Nathan Kendall will have to step up.
“He made his decision,” Adam Friesen said of Joel, “and we wish him the best.”
For longtime followers of UFV basketball, Friesen’s transfer is a bit of déjà vu. The last time the Cascades made a coaching change was in 2007, when the coaching duo of Pat Lee and Tom Antil was jettisoned prior to Craddock’s arrival. That turn of events prompted leading scorer Jamie Vaughan to leave for Trinity Western University.
Ironically, weeks before Craddock’s departure, Friesen was already planning a trip to Edmonton for the Canada Quest three-on-three tournament, which ran June 9-10.
He had formed essentially a Canada West dream team consisting of himself, Jordan Baker (Alberta Golden Bears), Dominyc Coward (Lethbridge Pronghorns) and Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson (Calgary Dinos). They combined to win the event and earn a trip to the FIBA 3×3 World Tour Masters tourney in New York City in August.
While in Edmonton, Friesen had a chance to take a look at the U of A campus, which helped him make up his mind.
He said most of his former UFV teammates “seemed to understand” when he informed them he was transferring, but the reaction hasn’t been universally positive.
“It’s been tough, because you’ve got people pulling on your heartstrings,” he said. “The people who really do know me and have talked to me about why I’m leaving, they understand. The people who just think that I’m being selfish, they must not know me that well.
“I just never thought this would happen. I’m excited about it, I’m scared about it. But at the same time, it’s going to be another chapter in my life … I’m going to learn from my mistakes, and I’m going to become successful in the end.”
Joel Friesen celebrated with his hometown fans after his buzzer-beater lifted the Cascades past the Lethbridge Pronghorns and into the Canada West Final Four on Feb. 25. Four months later, Friesen has decided to transfer to the University of Alberta. (John Morrow photo)