Lennard Freeman quietly contributes to Pack’s winning ways

jgiglio@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2013 

Long Beach St NC State Basketball

North Carolina State's Lennard Freeman (10) eyes a rebound after Long Beach State's Dan Jennings (35) missed a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. NC State won 76-66. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

KARL B DEBLAKER — AP

  • No. 25 Missouri

    at N.C. State

    When: 8 p.m.

    Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh

    TV/Radio: ESPN2, 101.5-WRAL

    Projected starting lineups

    Missouri (10-1)

    G Jordan Clarkson 19.9 ppg, 4.3 apg

    G Jabari Brown 18.2 ppg, 5.6 ppg

    G Earnest Ross 14.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg

    F Johnathan Williams 6.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg

    F Ryan Rosburg 5.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg

    N.C. State (9-2)

    G Cat Barber 12.4 ppg, 4.3 apg

    G Desmond Lee 10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg

    F T.J. Warren 23.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg

    F Lennard Freeman 4.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg

    F Jordan Vandenberg 8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg

    Player to watch

    Earnest Ross, guard, Missouri

    The 6-foot-5 senior transfer from Auburn is from Cary and played high school ball at Panther Creek. Ross leads the Tigers in steals with 18 and ranks second on the team with 18 3-pointers. Ross had 20 points in Mizzou’s 80-71 home win against UCLA on Dec. 7.

    Observations

    Missouri’s coaching staff will be familiar to ACC fans. Coach Frank Haith is a former Wake Forest assistant and he was Miami’s head coach from 2004 to 2011. Assistant Dave Leitao was Virginia’s head coach before Tony Bennett. Assistant Mark Phelps was at N.C. State for 10 seasons under Herb Sendek and assistant Tim Fuller is also a former Wake Forest assistant.

    Joe Giglio

— 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 doesn’t want personal redemption stories about being overlooked and underrated on the recruiting trail, either. It’s just not how he’s wired.

“I want to win,” Freeman said. “If I have to sit on the bench and we win, I’m happy. As long as we win, I’m 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 Vandenberg’s return from an ankle injury, Freeman perhaps has the most. That’s 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 can’t. It’s nice that they understand what they can do.”

With Vandenberg in the lineup, Freeman doesn’t have to guard the opponent’s biggest player. He also has some more free space with Vandenberg around the basket.

“I go challenge the shot and he gets the rebound, that’s 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.

“He’s a man,” Vandenberg said. “I don’t care what his age is, he’s 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 Freeman’s name and any doubts about his height – “I’m 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 didn’t 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 don’t always work out in recruiting.

“I understand that,” Freeman said, “and I heard that a lot. But I don’t really listen to what other people think. I know what I can do.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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