RALEIGH — Lennard Freeman committed to N.C. State late and has done more early in his career than most people thought was possible.
The freshman forward has started eight of 11 games and averages 7.2 rebounds, good for second on the team and 10th in the ACC.
Not bad for a recruiting postscript who has been a selfless role player for the Wolfpack (9-2), which will host No. 25 Missouri (10-1) Saturday night.
Freeman is not interested in credit for the toughness and hustle he has injected into the program, which had a shortage of both last season.
He doesnt want personal redemption stories about being overlooked and underrated on the recruiting trail, either. Its just not how hes wired.
I want to win, Freeman said. If I have to sit on the bench and we win, Im happy. As long as we win, Im happy.
Freeman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, has been happy lately. The Wolfpack has won seven straight and Freeman has seen his rebounding average rise from 5.5 to 8.1 during the streak.
Of all the players who have benefited from senior forward Jordan Vandenbergs return from an ankle injury, Freeman perhaps has the most. Thats not by accident, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
They both play to their strength, Gottfried said. Neither one tries to make plays they cant. Its nice that they understand what they can do.
With Vandenberg in the lineup, Freeman doesnt have to guard the opponents biggest player. He also has some more free space with Vandenberg around the basket.
I go challenge the shot and he gets the rebound, thats usually how it works, Vandenberg said.
Vandenberg and Freeman work well together. They formed an instant chemistry, which is particularly interesting given their ages. Vandenberg, a fifth-year senior, is 23. Freeman just turned 18 on Dec. 10.
Hes a man, Vandenberg said. I dont care what his age is, hes a full-grown man. I think his birth certificate is a mistake.
Freeman gets teased by teammates about his age a lot. They usually put baby or little in front of his name, which is pronounced Len-NARD. Freeman takes most of the ribbing in stride, except when people call him Leonard.
I hate Leonard, he said.
The pronunciation of Freemans name and any doubts about his height Im a legit 6-8 are about the only way to get his goat. Very little bothers him on the court.
He is not a player who needs the spotlight. He was the same way at Oak Hill and with Team Takeover, his Washington-based AAU team.
He does a lot of the dirty work, junior guard Ralston Turner said. You need that to win games.
Assistant coach Rob Moxley and Gottfried noticed Freeman early in the recruiting process. Freeman was an AAU teammate of fellow freshman forward BeeJay Anya. Freeman didnt commit until late April, though, after Anya and Kyle Washington.
Freeman actually considered reclassifying into the class of 2014 because of his age. He made the late decision to go to N.C. State instead.
Late additions dont always work out in recruiting.
I understand that, Freeman said, and I heard that a lot. But I dont really listen to what other people think. I know what I can do.