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Three years out, Freeman has one last shot
This October, Austin Freeman returned to Madison Square Garden, the same arena in which Georgetown suffered its last-second loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament Finals last March. This time, though, Freeman was there to celebrate. He had been named Big East Preseason Player of the Year. It was the sixth time that a Georgetown basketball player won the accolade, but the first time a Hoya guard had received it. However, the stoic senior downplayed its significance.
“I’m not really paying attention to all of that stuff,” Freeman said. “It only matters what happens at the end.”
He is speaking from experience. Freeman knows all too well how important the end of the season is after experiencing many disappointing losses in early March in each of his three seasons on the Hilltop.
Freeman’s Georgetown career couldn’t have started off better. He shot 40 percent from the three point line as a freshman for a reigning Final Four team. But those dreams were dashed in an instant by Stephen Curry and Davidson in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.
In his next season, Freeman was thrust into a bigger role after the core of the Final Four team graduated and two other players transferred. That year, Freeman’s performance paralleled the team’s. He fell into an uncharacteristic shooting slump as the Hoyas went into a colossal second half freefall, crashing and burning in the first round of the NIT. It was definitely a learning experience.
“You pretty much have to be ready to play every game,” Freeman said. “You can’t have any setbacks because every team is coming in and trying to beat you.”
Last season, Freeman rebounded from his sub-par year and led the team in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game. More importantly, he became a leader for the rest of his teammates, none of whom had logged as many minutes in blue and gray as he had. Freeman more than once carried the Hoyas on his back, scoring 28 and 24 second-half points in astonishing comeback wins over Connecticut and Louisville, respectively. But just as they did his freshman year, the Hoyas flamed out early in the Big Dance. Freeman doesn’t brood about the loss though.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” he said.
But the loss was even harder to deal with given the fact that Freeman had worked so hard to prepare for the postseason after being diagnosed with diabetes. Although he now says he has it under control, the disease was something Freeman had to learn to cope with and combat as he headed into his senior season.
This campaign will be the last for the shooting guard, and Freeman is prepared for what could be his finest season on the Hilltop. The last three years of disappointment have lit a fire under him, and Freeman says the fresh wounds of last year’s sudden ending won’t heal “until the first game of this season.”
Head coach John Thompson III believes his real motivator will be the fact that he has just one more chance to leave his mark on the Hilltop.
“You see it every year,” Thompson said. “It’s a natural process. Senior year rolls around and sometimes for the first time you realize there’s a finite number of games that I’m going to be able [to] play wearing this jersey.”
Along with fellow senior Chris Wright, Freeman will lead his final chase for elusive postseason success from the backcourt. “Big Man U” now belongs to the guards.
“We’ve been friends since high school,” Freeman said of his backcourt partner. “Our friendship grew stronger since we’ve been here. It helps out a lot that he is a very competitive person and I am too. Our will to win helps both of us.”
Freeman’s unselfish nature is perfect for their partnership. When Wright is feeling good, Freeman will give him the space to excel; when he is struggling, Freeman will be there to pick him up.
“I’m a basketball player,” Freeman said. “I’m going to have to make adjustments whenever I’m playing. If I have to do it in order for my team to win, I’ll do it.”
The pressure will be on both of them to carry this year’s squad. Freeman has excelled for three years with the help of a dominant post presence, but he has no such luxury this year. Of course, no one expects the unflappable guard to fall victim to the pressure.
“I think both of those guys [Wright and Freeman] have been under a microscope for a lot of years,” Thompson said. “I don’t think that they’re going to be under any more pressure or receive any more attention than they have in the past. And if they are, they’re more than ready, willing, and able to deal with that.”
Besides, after all the adversity he’s experienced in his first three years, how much tougher could senior year be?