Freeman has covered Singler ever since he stepped on the court as a freshman at South Medford. Not only has he covered Kyle locally, but also spent the summer in San Antonio for the Team USA event with the Singler camp; traveled to various AAU events; all while getting to know the Singler family as well as anyone. Joe was kind enough to sit down with TDD last week on the eve of Singler's press conference to discuss some of the more memorable moments of the last three years.
TDD: Now that we all know it's going to be Duke, are you surprised?
Joe Freeman: It's hard to be surprised. When you have Mike Krzyzewski saying he considers you his top target and that he sees you being a significant part of his program -- that has to be pretty overwhelming.
For a long time it was assumed the kid was a lock to attend Duke. Was that ever true in your opinion?
I don't think so. People tend to blow things out of proportion. Kyle sat down with his parents and told them he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision. A lot of people thought it was his dad encouraging him to take visits, but it was Kyle's choice. He couldn't be sure that he liked Duke over the other schools unless he visited all of them. And that's what he did.
I think he was truly thinking about Kansas and Arizona up until the end of the process though. I know the family likes and respects both Coach Self and Coach Olsen. He considered UCLA for a good while as well, but I never really saw him there. He's much more of a small town kind of kid.
Most people remember how the rumor mill really began to churn when Kyle and Kevin Love visited UCLA together. Was there ever anything to that?
The rumors about a package deal just blew up. I know the UCLA student section was amazing to both of them when they were there. They were chanting for them to come to school together, which was very impressive. But soon after there were rumors that Kyle was going to announce his decision in the spring. That was a total fabrication by whomever reported it.
How close are Kyle and Kevin?
They are very close, but the UCLA visit really blew that angle out of proportion. They are as close as two kids who live four hours apart can be. They played on the same AAU team for a while, and Kyle would always drive up from Medford and stay with Kevin whenever they were playing or flying out of Portland. They got close during that time and would hang out.
Since that time they've kind of gone their own separate ways a little bit and seem to have a healthy friendly rivalry. They are good friends who give each other a hard time in a playful kind of way. But they are different as well. Kevin has had so much attention throughout his high school career – he had front page features done on him before he ever stepped on a basketball court in ninth grade, and that's made him a bit more comfortable in the spotlight. On the other hand, Kyle grew up three or four hours outside Portland and has come onto the national scene a little bit later. He's also the more shy of the two.
When Kevin committed to UCLA I think it was a case of him telling Kyle, that he would love to play with him in college, but he understood if he wanted to do his own thing.
What do you think it was that put Duke over the top?
I think it was the way felt while he was there. He's a high major recruit, and yet he's also a small town kid. He visited Duke in the Spring unofficially and really seemed to feel comfortable there. Coach K didn't make it a huge production when he was there. They ate pizza and just hung out in a very laid back family atmosphere. He really liked the coaches and players at Duke when he was there.
The official visit was more of the same. Kyle had already been told how important he was to Coach K and his program, but when they arrived they spent the weekend in a very laid back atmosphere – there was no pressure or real selling job. They basically went to a barbeque at Coach K's house. I know the family tried to downplay the fact that both parents went to Duke with him, when only his dad went with him to Arizona and his mom went to Kansas, but I don't know how you can do that. Both parents felt very comfortable at Duke.
I talked to Kyle when he got back from the visit and he said that Duke reminded him of Medford.
What kind of player do you think Duke is getting?
Kyle is a very versatile player. People keep saying he's another Mike Dunleavy, but what they don't realize is that Dunleavy grew another five inches between his senior year and his freshman season at Duke. Singler is Dunleavy at Duke. He's bigger and stronger than Mike was, and he's more advanced at this stage than Mike was.
Kyle, more than any other player I can remember, blossomed onto the national scene over a course of a few years. Just in the last year he's developed into a different caliber of player. It's just incredible how much he's improved, and he's grown to 6'10. I remember watching him in San Antonio against the best of the best in the classes of 2006 and 2007. Everyone was convinced he was the best player on the court. I guess that's the benefit of the hectic schedules these kids play with AAU and other obligations. If it's done right, they get so good, so fast. That was the case with Kyle. From March until the summer he was on another level, and the sky is the limit for him. He's also one of the more competitive players I've ever seen.
Away from the court, Kyle is a shy, quiet kid who is a little bit goofy. But when it's time to compete, he's all business.
When we were in San Antonio, we all went out to dinner at Dave and Busters. They had one of those pop a shot basketball things. Kyle and his dad square off. Coach Romar, who was recruiting Kyle at the time, was standing in the background watching the entire time. You could just see that Kyle wasn't going to accept losing - he ended up winning 2-1, but even on something as small as that, the kid wants to win. It's a product of his family's athletic prowess and his home town's love of sports.
Can you elaborate on this summer's schedule? How much did it wear on him?
I think at one point during the summer, Kyle was away from home for three weeks out of a month. He went from AAU ball straight into the FIBA event. I know he did the Nike Camp a little bit as well, but at that point I think he was just completely worn out.
With Kyle being such a small town kid, how do you think he'll deal with the constant media spotlight at Duke?
I think he'll be fine. Even though Medford is a small town, it's a very passionate sports town. They take their sports seriously – one of the high schools (North Medford) has more state football titles than any school in the state. They pack a 10,000 seat stadium every week and are fiercely loyal to their teams. Proportionally the spotlight he's under every day as a national recruit there, may be as bright as anything he could face.
Speaking of football, much has been made of Kyle's decision to forego his senior season on the gridiron. How easy was that decision?
Not at all. Kyle competitive drive wouldn't allow him to just give up football. I think he's a football player at heart. He really labored with the decision, because he's a very good football player. Notre Dame was recruiting him as a tight end as a junior, and his dad was a three year starter at Oregon State, while his uncle played at Stanford. His little brother is a very good player as well. The family is entrenched in football, so it was tough. But I think the injury factor and the recruiting process made it impossible to continue.
The recruiting process?
Remember that Kyle was making official visits during the weekends, which would have been impossible if he had been playing football. The sheer stress of trying to squeeze those in while trying to maintain his football career would have been too much. I think he realized that and decided not to play for the betterment of the team.
After a while it seemed like Kyle's media interviews became almost scripted. Did he eventually just get tired of it all?
The recruiting process is going to be stressful on every elite athlete after a while, and some even reach a point where they get tired of it all together. Kyle just got to the point where he stopped talking. That's when his dad, Ed, took over and he handled it as best he could. With so many websites, newspapers, sports talk show, and other outlets constantly trying to stay updated, you can see how it would eventually wear on you.
In this day and age, there is always the concern among fans that any highly rated recruit will leave school early. How long do you think it'll be before Kyle heads to the NBA?
In my three years of covering him, I've never once heard either Kyle or his family say anything about leaving school early. Now what does that mean? Who knows. We're talking about a kid who hasn't played his senior year of high school yet. He will need to continue to improve and then prepare to play at the college level. If he has a great season, I would imagine he'll evaluate where he is and where he wants to be, but I've never got the impression in all my time covering him that he'll leave school without a degree.