For many, sports are not much more than a hobby, or something to keep you fit or active — heck, baseball’s even known as America’s national pastime. But for these three Clan seniors, sports — basketball, in particular — have been much, much more, and for quite some time.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was three,” said Justin Brown. “I played every sport you could think of when I was a kid. I played baseball and soccer, but when soccer went out the window I started playing football. I just stuck with basketball, so here I am now.”
“Here”, would be graduating from the Clan basketball program, though the Cal-Poly transfer still has a year of school left.
“My parents would kill me if I didn’t get my degree,” laughed Brown. “Really though, I know I’m pushing for something, and I think I have my basketball career to thank for that.
“School’s not easy, but playing basketball here as made it easier. I think that speaks to [head coach James] Blake’s influence, and to the guys like the two sitting
next to me.”
Those two guys would be Zack Frehlick and Connor Lewis, fellow graduands from the program who also share an athletic upbringing.
“My dad played basketball for UVic,” added Lewis, who transferred to SFU from Capilano when the Clan went NCAA. “Basketball has always been a part of my life, but I did try out a lot of different sports. It was probably not until grade nine that I realized that if I was going to move on with any one sport, it was going to be basketball.”
Frehlick’s journey here was similar to Lewis’s.
“My family is a huge sports family,” said fifth-year senior Frehlick. “My dad was an Olympian in volleyball, and my grandpa was an Olympian in track and field.
“I didn’t really have a choice,” he laughed, “it’s just part of my makeup. I played a lot of different sports growing up, but basketball was the one I fell in love with.”
That love for the game was no doubt one of the reasons these three, and the rest of their teammates, got through an unbelievably bizarre and truly unique season. Unfortunately, however, it was so for all the wrong reasons. The Clan entered the season with 18 players on their roster, but finished with just seven able to play. Be it freak injuries or academic issues, the Clan faced problems you probably wouldn’t wish on your biggest rival.
“What happened, happened,” said Brown. “I like to think it happened for the best.”
“We started off with 18 talented players, but we lacked cohesion, and there were some outliers,” added Frehlick, “but as we lost guys, we came closer together, even with less talent on the floor, and that’s something we can be proud of.”
A transition to a new league, let alone the NCAA, is never an easy task; this year’s unforeseeable hits to the lineup only compounded that matter. As some of the most experienced athletes on the team, the three seniors naturally played a big part in that transition, especially as Lewis and Brown were brought in during the team’s changeover. Still, they were quick to give much of the credit to their head coach.
“We had four returning players when we first went NCAA. It hasn’t been easy, but Blake has done a lot to smooth things over,” said Frehlick, who’d been with the Clan for three years before the transition to the American league.
“Even on the court, he [Blake] has taught us more than just basketball skills,” added Lewis. “He’s taught us leadership, commitment, and everything we need to be successful in life after basketball.
“I think we owe a lot to him ,actually,” said Brown. “He’s just a good person to be around, and that makes him a better coach. It makes it easier to listen to everything he says, and you just love playing for him.”
I think it’s already been stressed enough how important that passion is.
“We enjoyed going out and fighting for each other,” said Lewis. “Even though our record doesn’t necessarily show it, we did some amazing things.
“When we lost guys, we had other guys step up. Look at Chris [Evans] and Nickolay [Georgiev], they were both walk-ons and they did some great things. I think as the leaders on this team, we can be proud of them.” And that’s just one of the many things these three can be happy about as they leave the program.
Asked Brown, “We had what, three wins last year? This year we had eight, and it might not look like a lot to everyone on the outside looking in, but we know it means a lot. There’s still a ton of talent here, and the guys who missed this year will be back to improve that win total. The cupboards aren’t bare.”
“The way we represented ourselves, our school, we’re proud of what we’ve done here,” said Frehlick. “The guys here are like family now, and that won’t change.
“I’m grateful for everything I had here,” he continued, and that statement was met with smiles and nods from both Brown and Lewis.
When you boil it down, Brown, Lewis, and Frehlick aren’t much more than three twenty-somethings who just love to play a game. Maybe that was what they were when they started here, but thanks to an almost unfair amount of adversity thrown their way, and the help of a personable coach, they exit the program with heads on their shoulders and as part of a lifelong family.
“It’s been a good journey,” said Lewis, but one that, at least for now, has come to an end.