Abbotsford’s Marek Klassen and the Fraser Valley Bandits return to the court on Saturday. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford’s Marek Klassen and the Fraser Valley Bandits return to the court on Saturday. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Fraser Valley Bandits return to the court Saturday

Abbotsford-based CEBL team returns with new players, new head coach and possibly fans in the stands

For some a summer job could be landscaping, painting or working at a camp – for Abbotsford’s Marek Klassen the last three summers have meant suiting up in the orange and blue of the Fraser Valley Bandits.

The Yale Secondary grad is the only player to suit up in all three seasons for last year’s championship finalist, and this year may even see the return of fans later this summer.

But the look of the 2021 Bandits is drastically different from the team that rode a momentum wave to the Canadian Elite Basketball League finals at the Summer Series. Only Klassen and 2020 team MVP Malcolm Duvivier are back.

There is also a new man behind the bench, as former assistant coach David Singleton steps into the role of head coach. Kyle Julius, last year’s head coach and general manager, opted to remain in Taiwan where he coaches full-time. He is still the GM, but the club hired former Los Angeles Laker Robert Sacre as his assistant.

Klassen said the team has a different feel, but that he believes the club has a chance to build on last year’s success.

“We’ve really reloaded,” he said. “We’ve definitely made some really cool changes and I’m super excited about it from a team culture standpoint.”

He said he likes some of the bigger bodies the Bandits have acquired. Seven-footer Brandon Gilbeck and forwards like Shaquille Keith (6’6) and Kenny Maginault (6’5) add size up front, which was something the Bandits lacked in 2020.

Another big difference for Klassen is that he will be back in his familiar starting role in 2021. He came off the bench in 2020, and while he had no problem in that role, he said he’s looking forward to the starting opportunity.

“Last year in the bubble it was very interesting and it was just six games so it was all about match-ups, doing all we have to do to win six games and playing whoever is hot,” Klassen said. “So I was happy coming off the bench and putting your ego to the side and just trying to win. But this year I’m ready to step up and be that starting point guard.”

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Klassen said he thinks Singleton as the head coach will bring the same intensity that Julius did in 2020.

“They’re very similar coaching styles and Dave is very in-tune with Kyle,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Dave, he’s a younger guy but has already done some impressive things in his career. It’s a similar vibe that we had with Kyle, but I think Dave is going to put his own spin on things. He’s helped make this team very tight-knit.”

Another player to watch for 2021 is Semiahmoo Secondary grad Adam Paige. The current University of Alberta Golden Bear was drafted ninth overall by the Bandits in this spring’s U Sports draft. Paige helped lead Alberta to a 19-1 record in Canada West play in 2019-20 and was the CW rookie of the year in 2018-19.

He’s hoping to contribute in anyway he can and soak up knowledge this summer before returning to Edmonton in the fall.

“I’m not expecting anything but I do know that U Sports players have impacted their CEBL teams the last few years so I know there will be an opportunity and I want to use that and try to be successful and help out wherever I can,” he said.

Paige averaged 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in two seasons at the university level. He also shot an impressive 47 per cent from the field. The 6-8 forward believes he can contribute if given the chance.

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“I’m a big man but I can step outside and hit the three-ball and create mismatches out there,” he said. “I can beat guys with my feet if they give me space.”

He added that he hopes to use this unique experience to further his basketball career.

“I’ll fill in wherever they want me to play,” he said. “Even if that’s just being on the bench and cheering guys on, but I do think I can offer versatility and options if they want to use me.”

The Bandits open the season against the Saskatchewan Rattlers at the Abbotsford Centre on Saturday (June 26) at 4 p.m. They then host the Niagara River Lions on Tuesday (June 29) at 7 p.m. A Canada Day re-match against the Rattlers is set for Thursday (July 1) at 1 p.m.

Team officials stated they will be monitoring government restrictions closely and hope to invite fans back when they are allowed to do so.

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