NC State

Freeman finding his stride for NC State

N.C. State's Lennard Freeman (1) pulls in the rebound as William & Mary's Greg Malinowski (5) trails during the first half of the Wolfpack's game against William & Mary at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.
N.C. State's Lennard Freeman (1) pulls in the rebound as William & Mary's Greg Malinowski (5) trails during the first half of the Wolfpack's game against William & Mary at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Lennard Freeman can pinpoint exactly where he is in his recovery from offseason surgery.

“I’m still not 100 percent yet but I’m like 97 percent,” the N.C. State junior said.

And that’s good enough for the Wolfpack (5-3), which almost always plays better as a team with a healthy, productive Freeman in the lineup.

After a week off for semester exams, N.C. State plays at South Florida (2-7) on Sunday (4 p.m., ESPNU).

The Wolfpack is hoping Freeman has turned a corner in his rehabilitation from leg surgery in June. The 6-8, 250-pound junior had a 14-inch rod inserted in his shin to heal a fracture.

Some days I don’t feel it, it’s like I just got out of surgery.

NC State forward Lennard Freeman

He came off the bench in a 99-86 home win over Bucknell last Saturday and produced his fourth career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds in 29 minutes.

“Some days I don’t feel it, it’s like I just got out of surgery,” Freeman said after the Bucknell win. “But I just have to play through it and be tough.”

Freeman brings an element of toughness to the Wolfpack lineup. A strong rebounder and quick defender on the pick-and-roll, Freeman’s numbers don’t always jump off the box score but he makes the Wolfpack better.

N.C. State’s 19-3 the past three years when Freeman has eight rebounds or more and 12-0 when he gets double-digit rebounds.

He leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game this season and has hit double-digits in wins over South Alabama, Winthrop and Bucknell.

But getting back into game shape has been a process for Freeman, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday.

He played through the original leg injury at the end of 2014-15 season. When N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried put Freeman in the lineup before a Feb. 14 game at Louisville, N.C. State’s season changed.

The Wolfpack closed with wins in five of its final six games to play its way into the NCAA tournament. Then the Wolfpack knocked off LSU and No. 1 seed Villanova, with a double-double from Freeman, in the tournament.

Gottfried likes to compare Freeman, one of his favorite players during his five-year tenure, to Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson because both forwards do a lot of the little things to help their teams win.

Gottfried liked what he saw from Freeman in the Bucknell game, the bounce in his step and the quickness in his “second jump” after an offensive rebound.

“He looked like he had a little bit more zip,” Gottfried said. “The only thing he really lacks is conditioning. He has to get into game condition.”

Freeman missed the better part of six months since the end of last season. He was held out of offseason drills for two months, a move the N.C. State medical staff hoped would help heal the fractures.

After no progress was made, Freeman underwent successful surgery on June 3. He was held out for almost four months until the start of practice in mid-October.

He started the first seven games but seemed more comfortable coming off the bench against Bucknell. He’s finally starting to feel like himself.

“I’m getting better every day,” Freeman said.

And that’s what N.C. State needs.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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