How does BallinEurope contributor Sam Chadwick’s basketball career fit in with that of Joel Freeland, Portland Blazers draft pick in 2006 and current Team Britain/Unicaja Malaga player? Read on to find out, together with an assessment of Freeland’s recent performance in the London Invitational Tournament. (And requisite YouTube clip!)
In the summer of 2007, I had just finished my under-15 season and I had a hard task ahead: After playing as a forward my whole three-year career, being just 5’8”, I had to learn how to play the point; I had to work on my ball-handling and passing ability to be able to get any playing time the next season. I spoke to the legendary Solent coach Jimmy Guymon to ask if I could have some private sessions on Friday nights with some of the other under-18s looking to head to the United States and the under-16s looking to improve for their under-18 and final years.
I remember the first session well: It was held at Woodlands School on the other side of Southampton; the main sports hall was in use when I arrived but at the end of the corridor was a smaller hall, not even half a basketball court but with two hoops and a wood sprung floor…
I could hear the dribble of a basketball and the swish of the ball going through the net. I assumed it would be one of the other under-18s and so decided to go say hi. As I walked the corridor hearing the continuous dribbling of the ball and the swish of the net, I actually got a little nervous. I didn’t know who it would be and didn’t expect what I saw; it took just a second to register: “Oh my God, that’s Joel Freeland,” all 6’11” of him, built like a tank.
Now back then, I was just a scrawny little 5’8” midget compared to him. I introduced myself and shook his hand, with his pretty much engulfing my whole wrist and I was struck for words but managed to mumble something or other. I ended up just watching him shoot around for a few minutes until the main sports hall cleared out and others arrived. I will probably always remember the moment I met Joel Freeland and that summer I ended up seeing him a lot: In spite of having a pro contract in Spain and being an NBA draft pick, he still came to sessions with his old coach to work on his game, getting mentored, learning new moves and working on the moves he already had.
It was Joel’s attendance at these workouts that I realised what you need to play basketball at an NBA/international level;
1. Being very tall helps – *a lot*
2. Being built like a tank is important
3. Work ethic
Even though he was an NBA draft pick by the Portland Trailblazers, Joel only started playing at 16 years old. When I saw him he was 21 (if I remember correctly) and yet he was still only a student of the game, a rookie as it were, someone who was already this good but still had miles left to improve; his willingness to work on his game during his holidays really showed the devotion needed to play at a high level.
Freeland has been steadily improving in Europe for the past few seasons and is today one of Spain and Europe’s best big men, playing for Unicaja Malaga.
Right now, Freeland is showing off the improvements he’s made over the summers and how much he’s making the most of that potential. If any of you have been in a cave and haven’t seen the London Prepares Series, I will give you a little information, The London Prepares Series is a test event for the London 2012 Olympic Games to ensure that the Stadium can cope with the anticipated attendance; participating teams attending the tournament included France, Australia, China, Croatia, Serbia and of course Great Britain.
Freeland finished the tournament averaging 16 points on 50% overall shooting from the field and 53.8% on twos, 7.4 rebounds, 5 defensive and 2.4 offensive rebounds per game! While also hitting 66.7% from the charity stripe and adding 0.8 assists all in 25 minutes per game, he averaged pretty much a point or a rebound every minute.
His individual game highs of 22 points (twice, against Croatia and Australia) and high of 13 rebounds (against China), it was Joel that in numerous games bought Team Britain back from the brink.
Despite Great Britain finishing with a record of 1-4, the event was seen as a huge success. Luol Deng didn’t play the first three games due to his annual camp at Loughborough University (which many people complained about), but we then beat China and lost by one point to Australia.
For a guy who has played little for Britain over the past few summers due to injury, Freeland seems to be fitting right in just in time for the Eurobasket tournament next week. I’m sure I speak for the whole of Great Britain and the Solent organisation by wishing Joel and the rest of the squad the best of luck in Lithuania, hoping that we can win some games to bring a little success and some much deserved respect to Great British Basketball.
Sam Chadwick is a university student, part-time sportswriter and a coach in the Solent Kestrels organization.