Long Time Coming
Joel Freeland is ready for the NBA.
Following Great Britain’s 90-58 win over China in the last group match, SLAMonline caught up with new Trail Blazers forward Joel Freeland to discuss his move to the NBA.—Ed.
by John Hobbs / @johnswisshobbs
After being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2006, Joel Freeland decided to mature his game in Spain. With more international experience, the British forward knew he would eventually be ready to play in the NBA.
Freeland’s progress was steady, and so too, was that of Great Britain’s national team. Led by Freeland and the Bulls’ Luol Deng, Team GB rose from European Division B basketball to Division A and, eventually, to the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1948.
Advancing through the Olympic exhibition rounds, the Brits faced off against the United States in Manchester Arena on July 18. Freeland had just signed a three-year deal to play in Portland and was desperate to prove himself against the likes of Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and rookie Anthony Davis.
Despite scoring the opening bucket of the game—by faking LeBron James inside for the layup—Freeland failed to make a significant contribution.
Being the typical unselfish “British baller,” the Aldershot-born Freeland—who began his career in the humble settings of Eastleigh, near Southampton playing for Solent—stated that the game against Team USA was all about announcing to the world that basketball had arrived in Britain.
“It wasn’t about my performance at all, I wasn’t focused on showing everyone that I can compete with NBA athletes, it was about basketball in England, in Great Britain,” Freeland said.
“The USA game showed people that basketball exists in Great Britain. I’m sure most the fans in Manchester paid to see Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and others, but what they saw wasn’t just that, they saw that Great Britain were playing them, competing with them and trading blows with them. For me, despite losing by 40, we didn’t hang our heads in shame, we held them high. A lot of people that were wearing NBA jerseys were chanting ‘GB’ and that was an awesome feeling.”
Freeland moved onto the Olympics and tested himself against the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Yi Jianlian, Timofey Mozgov, Anderson Verejao and Nene. But Joel’s most notable battle would come against Spain and the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau. The Spanish also had Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka for company, too. Even though he didn’t show any signs of frustration after the USA game, the matchup against the 2011 EuroBasket winners was a perfect chance at redemption.
A tournament-high of 25 points and 7 rebounds against the seasoned NBA veterans of Spain was the perfect personal achievement for Freeland, but unfortunately Great Britain, ranked 43rd in the FIBA rankings fell to world number two, Spain, 79-78.
Still, for Freeland, he now knows that even though the environment will be different, he’ll be ready.
“Yeah, it will be tough of course, it isn’t the same as playing here [in the Olympics],” Freeland admitted. “I mean everyone [in the NBA] is just an incredible athlete, so it is going to take a little time to adjust obviously, but I’m willing to put in that time. I’m going to go over there early, make sure I get my body right, make sure I get my mind right to adjust to that different kind of way of playing.”
Freeland is looking forward to the challenge. He had a conversation with France’s Nicolas Batum during the Games about life in Portland—about general living and the surrounding areas.
After an impressive showing in Great Britain’s five games, averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, Freeland has now proven that he belongs on the NBA stage.