Despite receiving a nomination for the 2011 Big East first team in his senior year, former Georgetown Hoyas guard Austin Freeman went undrafted by the NBA and so flew overseas to play for Libertas Fulgor Forli’, a team based in a small North Italian city and playing in the second-division Legadue. Enrico Cellini met with Freeman at the gym after a recent practice session to chat with him about his new life on and off the court.
General managers of European powerhouses tend to distrust American players out of university, as their teams cannot afford to await the player’s adaptation to a system that’s all about team execution. This is why even young talented players with prestigious college résumés may have to start professionally in the provinces of Europe.
A big Carmelo Anthony fan, former Hoya Austin Freeman is a powerful 6’3” (190.5 cm) guard with a wide shooting range: “I think I’m more like a Joe Johnson type of player, but I like watching many players and try to take a little something out of them.” Last season, his senior year as a Hoya, Freeman scored 17.6 points per game and joined Kemba Walker in the backcourt of the All Big East First Team.
Freeman confesses he landed in the Italian second division with little knowledge of European basketball. “I didn’t know too much, just that some rules were a little different. I knew a couple of guys from my area who told me they were doing well. You know David Hawkins? He played here in Italy before and told me I would do fine.”
The Hawk, current captain of Beşiktaş Milangaz, was right and Austin began doing what he’s always done: pouring in points and making big shots. See below for video from his debut in Italy, when he introduced himself by dropping 38 points.
He acknowledges some differences with the basketball he was used to: “Most players here have a lot of skills, they’re very talented. The big men can shoot really well; they can put the ball on the floor. The game is also more physical here.
“Plus, here it’s much more about team game: In America, we have a lot of isolation – players do their own thing most of the time. Here you have to be able to execute both on the offensive end and the defensive end.”
But Freeman doesn’t want to make much of an issue out of his status as a rookie in a European basketball. After all, there are many instances that remind him of college. Fans “are not so different, I mean not so different from American college fans. Just a little bit more excited and involved with everything.”Freeman’s relationship with his teammates is quite similar: “I try to stay with the team most of the time like I used to in Georgetown. I hang out with the guys just trying to keep that bond strong.”
Forli’ is a small city in the northeast of Italy. There is only one McDonalds in town and rumors say many of Fulgor Libertas’ former American players are distinguished members of the Hall of Fame of hamburger-consumers there.
“Naaah, I’m not like that!” Freeman chuckles. “I found a couple of good Italian restaurants I go to on a regular basis when I have practice. I like going there with the guys, too.”
Currently the third-highest scorer in the league at 22.4 points per game, Freeman has drawn the attention of several first-division teams from Italy and Greece. Forli’ is not willing to let him go during the 2011-12, and will surely struggle to re-sign him with such suitors.
When we mention the word “future,” Freeman chuckles, presuming the same old lame question on NBA dreaming is forthcoming. We try not to mention the three magic letters explicitly, instead asking: Are you going to the next summer league?
“Yeah, that’s the plan. Once the season is over, I’m going back home [and] take a couple of weeks off to get ready for it.”
All right then, some hypothetical thinking, then. Next summer, there are two deals on the table: One is a guaranteed contract offered by a top European team; the other is a non-guaranteed temporary contract from an NBA team. Say a 15-day contract. What would Freeman go for?
“If it’s a 15-day contract, I’m coming back here to Europe! If it’s a 15 day contract…”
Enrico Cellini is lifelong basketball fanatic and a long-time sportswriter with a focus on Italy and Spain. He was born among European hoops, was raised watching the NBA, and thinks choosing between American and European basketball is like choosing between one’s mother and father. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Italian-language blog Hoop Addicted.