Saturday 3 October 2009

Exciting, young Cascades should push for CW playoff spot

After reaching CW Pacific division playoffs in coach Barnaby Craddock's first season as mentor of at University of Fraser Valley with a primarily-veteran group in 2007-08, the Cascades rebuilt virtually from scratch last season with a very young lineup that stayed in most games and produced the Canada West Rookie-of-the-Year. Despite not making the playoffs last season, Craddock's underclassmen matured rapidly and with the return of a top recruit who missed all of last season due to injury and a pair of potentially program-changing transfers, UFV should be right in the mix for one of the four playoff spots in the Pacific, which features at least 5 teams good enough to contend but only 4 playoff spots available in the revamped Canada West playoff system.

Expect UFV to be able to score with anyone given their strong stable of guards and wings, beginning with 6'3" Sam Freeman, who was the Cascades best player as a freshman last season and was rewarded with ROY honours. Freeman has what Craddock describes as "NBA range" on his jumper and can also attack the rim off the dribble. Much is expected of Freeman as a scorer again this season as he builds on his 13.2 ppg average. In 6'0" Laurentian transfer Craig Bauslaugh, the Cascades get a very good complement to Freeman on the wing given his ability to finish, knock shots down and make sound decisions. The experienced Bauslaugh will be in the rotation at the wing spots where in Craddock's offensive system twos and threes are rarely distinguishable. The third wing in the mix is 6'4" Joel Friesen, a prized recruit last season out of Abbotsford Yale H.S., where he was M.V.P. of the B.C. Provincial tournament while leading his club to the championship. Unfortunately, Friesen missed all of last season while rehabbing a torn ACL but is healthy and ready to go in what will be his freshman season. With the ability to play anywhere from the 1 to the 4, expect Friesen, who bulked up in his rehab year, to push for UFV's second consecutive CW ROY honour.

Setting the table for Cascades impressive set of wings is 5'10" Zeon Gray, a Californian who played the past two seasons at Whatcom Junior College in Bellingham, WA where he was a stats-sheet stuffer (10 ppg/4 apg/2 spg) without generally looking to score alot. Described as a "pass first" point guard, Gray has already shown in pre-season practices the mature decision making and leadership at the lead guard to warrant a starting role. Another Yale H.S. grad, 5'11" Sheldon Bjorgaard, cut his teeth running the point in spells last season, gaining valuable experience and showing off his quickness and ability to knock down 3's (40% shooter from downtown). Bjorgaard, who originally signed with Morehead (MN.), a Division II school where he redshirted before returning home to play his freshman year for Craddock last season, should be a very solid backup to Gray, ensuring the point is well taken care of for 40 minutes.

Craddock will look to spread the floor and let his array of points and wings break defenders down off the dribble to create either to the rim or for kick outs and to play this style, it is desireable to have bigs who can stroke the ball when left alone. In 6'7" third-year forward Kyle Grewal and 6'6" second-year four-man Josh Kufske the Cascades have what they regard as two complementary fours. Grewal, who has the most returning experience in the program, is ready for a "breakout year" according to Craddock. Grewal started 13 games last season and has a nice blend of perimeter and inside skills and is much stronger after a diligent summer. The muscular Kufske, another Yale H.S. graduate, is a catch-and-shoot big who has evolved his game from being mainly a banger previously.

Another top recruit highlights a pair of solid five men as 6'8" 235 lbs. Australia native James Elliott, a transfer from Lakeland College of the ACAC where he averaged`14 ppg last season looks to assume a starting role. Elliott shot 50% from downtown, garnering second team ACAC all-star status but also has solid post skills especially on the defensive end where Craddock feels the Cascades must win battles to contend. 6'7" Jasper Moedt, the fourth member of UFV from Yale, is a pure 5 who will bang, get on the glass and finish inside.

The four members of the Cascades from Yale H.S., located just 5 minutes from the UFV campus, were all mentored and coached by long-time Head Coach Al Friesen who is the father of former CIS great Adam Friesen, an assistant on Craddock's current staff.

Craddock feels that his nine-man rotation, despite the relative youth (all rotation players enter their third or less season of eligibility), will score with any team in the nation and produce an exciting offensive brand of basketball. How well the group finishes should be predicated on their ability to stop teams. Craddock, a former CIS COY at Brandon four years ago, has a proven track record of getting teams to play and expect UFV to be right there at the end in CW Pacific.

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