ABBOTSFORD — To an impressionable middle schooler, they served as his early mentors, a pair of giving gurus who would not only come to share a past with Fraser Valley Cascades’ guard Riley Braich, but a path towards a common goal.
Now, seven years down that figurative road, both Adam Friesen and Marek Klassen continue to play leading roles in the development of the rising sophomore Braich, who after a season as a freshman understudy is set to resume his role as a leading man this fall as the Cascades’ starting point guard.
Like peas in a pod to the power of three.
All three were blue-chip high school lead guards, and each took their turn in leading the Lions of nearby Yale Secondary to the B.C. Triple A tournament.
To this day, the ties seems stronger than ever.
UFV head coach Friesen (Yale 2000) and third-year overseas professional Klassen (Yale 2010) have continued to pass along their knowledge to Braich, a cub on the cusp.
“This was my plan, to get this kind of opportunity as a young, second-year guard and it’s pretty cool,” said Braich on Thursday morning as he prepared to begin the first of his self-imposed two-a-day off-season workouts. “This is the most motivated I have ever felt before the season.”
If you know anything about the prolific Braich, a player who once scored 63 points in a single game during his Grade 11 year at Yale, one in which he and current UBC Thunderbirds’ guard Jauquin Bennett-Boire led the Lions to the B.C. title, that is saying a lot.
Yet while he’s been a self-starter his whole career, additional confidence has come from the continued counsel he has received from Friesen and Klassen.
So much of that was driven home last month during casual sessions at UFV’s Envision Athletic Centre.
Out of the corner of his eye, Friesen could see Klassen, in town following a pro campaign in England with the Worcester Wolves, putting Braich through his paces.
“It’s super cool, just the legacy behind it all,” said Klassen, who played his college basketball in San Diego at Point Loma Nazarene.”When I was a young kid, Adam would work me out, and I can remember losing to him 40-0 in one-on-one. He’d kill me. And when Riley was in like Grade 7, 8 and 9, I’d come home from college at Point Loma and work him out a couple of times a week in the gym.”
STEEPED IN HOOPS TRADITION
Braich is a par of one of B.C.’s most enduring basketball families.
His dad Bobby, as well as his uncles Herman, Jim and Ken all played for Mission and made the Roadrunners a provincial tournament mainstay. Braich’s younger brother Bradley is a rising senior with the Lions and expected to be one of the top scorers in B.C. this coming high school season.
It’s all part and parcel of his total immersion in the game, and being six years younger than Klassen, he has been able to very easily relate to the everything the 2010 B.C. Triple A tournament MVP has talked to him about.
“I really wanted to follow in his footsteps at Yale,” Braich says. “And he really has been like a mentor to me. If there’s been a decision I’ve had to make, I’ve asked him.”
What has been the biggest take away been for Braich?
“(Marek) goes 100 per cent every rep,” he says. “Every rep he is pushing himself, and that’s what I’ve learned most from being around him, that pro mindset.”
All of that has manifested itself in Braich’s own summer boot camp.
This past season, as a freshman apprentice, he learned from the likes of UFV’s senior guard duo of Manny Dulay and Vijay Dhillon.
Together, the pair hit a nation-leading 126 treys on the campaign, and thus Braich, who averaged about three points and 10 minutes per contest, had to make the most of his opportunities on the floor.
This season, however, he could be logging upwards of 30 minutes a contest, and with all of that in mind, he has fortified his body for the journey ahead.
“This summer, my biggest focus has been turning my body into a college-level body,” begins Braich, who has lived in the weight room more than he’s lived in the gym. “I have gained 11 pounds (of muscle mass) since the end of the season.
“When I was younger, I never thought it could make that much of a difference, but now I can bump off, take it to the hoop and just attack a lot better.”
PREPPING FOR THE PROS
Friesen can’t help but like what he’s always seen as Braich’s strongest trait: His love of the game.
“Riley’s goal is to one day do what Marek is doing,” Friesen says of Braich establishing himself as a professional player in much the same way Klassen has in the European pro leagues. “So it’s great that at such a young age he gets to see what Marek’s game is like, how good you have to be, and most importantly, how much it takes to get there and the attitude that you must have.”
With all of that in mind, he seems ready to assume an increased level of responsibility with the Cascades, whose back court will be as young as they come in 2017-18, with every player at the first two guard spots either a sophomore, redshirt freshman or pure freshman
Fraser Valley opens its 2017-18 conference slate on the road, Oct. 27-28 at powerhouse UBC, and Braich may well open his career as the team’s lead guard by being matched up against his former teammate Bennett-Boire.
Klassen will be back in town later this summer to continue working with Braich, and he’ll even put him to work July 18-20 when he stages his own elite-level basketball camp at an as-yet-undetermined Abbotsford location.
“Riley is going to be there as a mentoring coach,” says Klassen. “I can remember putting him through workouts when he was a Grade 9, and now to come back and see how much he has changed has been so cool. I think he destined to have a great year.”
It’s testament to the power of three.
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