Utah Valley forward Konner Frey is 23, old for a college junior but not for his team. Other Wolverines are just as old, if not older. Other guys have, like him, gone on Mormon missions and returned stateside.
It is one reason he feels younger than his years, but only one. There is also the fact that before this season he hardly played for three years — two while on his mission to Malaysia and Singapore, one while sitting on the far end of the Utah State bench.
As he put it, “I actually feel like a young buck in some ways. … Coming home, coming over from Singapore, I felt like I was a teenager again, relearning everything.”
The 6-6 Frey appears to be making up for lost time, averaging 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds for the Wolverines (12-16), who host Grand Canyon Saturday on ASN. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with junior guard Jaden Jackson, leaving them fifth in the Western Athletic Conference. Frey is also fifth in the conference in rebounding.
“Definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done is trying to get back into playing form, so I could compete at a high level,” he said. “It’s a really difficult thing.”
Frey, who followed a year in Malaysia with one in Singapore before returning home in August 2014, has no second thoughts about his mission trip, none at all. It changed him, expanded his horizons, caused him to look at the world in an entirely different way.
But he only managed to play every now and then while overseas, only managed, he said, to “mess around” for 20 minutes here and there on some makeshift court or other, sometimes in the Malaysian jungle. It took him eight or nine months to get his legs back when he returned, several more months to fine-tune his game.
“I felt like it probably took me a year to get back to where I was playing my best basketball,” he said.
That was last August, after he had spent a year at Utah State, playing all of 10 minutes over four games. He intended to remain there this season, but in summer pickup games at Utah Valley with players from colleges throughout the state he heard good things about the place, as well as new coach Mark Pope.
Finally he met Pope. And, Frey said, “Right there and then, it was pretty much over.”
He transferred shortly before the school year began, and has settled right in, one of 10 newcomers on the Wolverines’ 18-man roster.
So despite their record, he said, “I think we’ve exceeded most people’s expectations, maybe even some of our own expectations to an extent.”
Frey grew up in Bountiful, Utah, the youngest of six children in an athletic family. And his dream at first was to become an NFL quarterback.
“That was my everything,” he said.
But in eighth grade he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, ending his football career for good. He was crushed, he said, and wondering which way to turn.
“In the long run it was a good thing, I think,” he said. “I came to learn at an early age there’s more to life than just athletics.”
Basketball caught his fancy after he grew from 6 feet to 6-4 before his junior year at Viewmont High School, and he started his last two seasons there. He also spent the ‘11-12 season at Northwest College, a junior college in Powell, Wyoming, before heading off on his mission.
He knew nothing about Malaysia or Singapore before going there, but learned quickly. They were, he said, “like two different planets.” In some parts of Malaysia, the people had next to nothing. But Singapore was clean, safe, technologically advanced.
Frey called the entire experience “extremely eye-opening.” He learned the language — Mandarin — and so much more.
“It led me to realize all this world has to offer — the different personalities, the different people, (the fact that) everyone has different circumstances and backgrounds. So it was really amazing to be able to witness all that and be a part of that, and it just made me, I think, cherish what I have even more, because I saw people that had nothing, pretty much.”
He has kept that in mind, even as he has turned his focus to the sport he loves. The one he has had to relearn. The one that has left him feeling younger than his years.
Above: Konner Frey’s experiences in Malaysia and Singapore opened his eyes to what the world has to offer. (Courtesy Utah Valley Athletics)