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Joel Friesen is the perfect example of why National Basketball League of Canada teams need to value their Canadian players.
Friesen, a native of Abbotsford, B.C. who was an integral part of the London Lightning’s NBL champsionship run in 2017, was quickly scooped back into the Lightning fold, re-signing with the team Tuesday.
NBL teams need to have five Canadians on the roster this season, one more than they needed last year.
Friesen isn’t just a nationality filling a required roster spot. He is the kind of player teams need to be successful.
Friesen, a 6-foot-5 guard, was named a first team NBL All-Canadian for averaging 11 points and four rebounds a game. He was fourth in three-point shooting percentage, knocking down 41 per cent of his shots from beyond the arc.
But Friesen does a lot of things that don’t appear on the stat sheet. He’s a player who never stops working and is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
Friesen’s terrific play earned him an invitation to the Canadian national men’s team camp. He didn’t make the team, but he was named an alternate.
When Friesen signed last year, then Lightning coach Kyle Julius said he did everything he could to sign him away from the Halifax Hurricanes. Julius proved prophetic.
Friesen is a hot commodity. He said there were opportunities to go elsewhere, but he liked what the championship Lightning were doing to bring back the core of last season’s team.
“At the end of the year, I weighed my options as I do at the end of every offseason,” Friesen said. “It came down to London was where I wanted to be, especially since a lot of core guys are coming back. That was a huge factor.
“The guys coming back are core guys, guys who are starters and were a part of the championship run. To have those guys want to come back was definitely a big deal. It helped me make my decision as far as knowing what kind of guys, what kind of character we are going to have. It was just reassuring and kind of cool seeing how many guys wanted to come back.”
The Lightning have already announced the return of league most valuable player Royce White and playoff most valuable player Ryan Anderson. Guard Junior Cadougan, who is with the national team, will also return.
Discussions are ongoing with forward Garrett Williamson. Forward Julian Boyd couldn’t finish the season because of a knee injury, but is rehabbing and expects to return to the Lightning sometime after Christmas.
Friesen might well have made the national team if he’d gotten a little more notice. He said he was home in British Columbia celebrating his birthday on Aug. 16. The tryout camp was scheduled for Toronto on Aug. 19.
“I was doing my typical visit — visiting family and friends, my godparents,” Friesen said. “I’m training some kids in the gym and coach Rana (Roy Rana) called me and asked if I was around and available and I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m available.’
“The experience was really, really amazing. The overall energy around Canada Basketball is going in the right direction. They kept me as an alternate. If someone can’t make it to the tournament, it’s still an opportunity for me to get a call-up.”
What may be most important is that Friesen’s name is now in the national team’s information banks. He’s a known entity.
“To just get the call, my foot is in the door and it’s still in the door,” he said. “I had a great tryout. It would have been nice to be on the team, but I just wish the boys the best. I support them and will help them out when I can.”
Friesen will play a bigger role with the Lightning this year and he’ll continue to get better. A national team spot should be in the future.
“I’m always trying to keep getting better and want to prove that my career is still improving,” he said. “I’m looking to take the next step. Trying to get better is important. Coming back here is a step in the right direction. Because I’m returning, it would be nice to get a bigger role. That’s what I’m looking for.”
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