More than 6,000 miles away from his hometown, Matt Freeman found himself talking to an old acquaintance – a ‘big brother’ – about Oklahoma, his future and the dream that he envisioned as a gangly 10-year-old boy.
Freeman sat face-to-face with Oklahoma City Thunder forward and fellow New Zealand-native Steven Adams in Los Angeles at the Adidas Global Nations camp. It was just a few hours before his trip to Norman for an unofficial visit with the Sooners, who had started recruiting the big man in May and offered in June.
While in Norman, the Freemans talked about committing to Oklahoma. It was a comforting place that his parents, Jonathan and Louise, thought would be a great fit – a place where the coaching staff would really take care of their son, who would be more than 7,500 miles from home.
He needed the long plane ride back to make sure he had the right school. One day after he touched down back in New Zealand, Freeman picked the Sooners over Arizona State and Vanderbilt to become the third member of the Sooners’ 2016 recruiting class – currently the best under coach Lon Kruger.
He plans to sign in November and arrive on campus in January.
“It was always a dream of mine, since I was about 10 or 11,” Freeman said during a phone interview from New Zealand. “I just kind of always had that ambition to get to the States. . . . It’s been in my mind for quite a while. It’s kind of weird thinking now and looking back all those years ago.
“It was just a dream back then, and now, it seems to be a reality. It’s weird. It all happened so fast.”
Dave Mackay first met Freeman almost seven years ago, when a 10-year-old Freeman, who had always been big for his age, still had plenty of detractors outside of his inner circle. The boy – still shorter than 6-foot-1 – didn’t have much fundamental skill and at times looked like a “baby giraffe,” Mackay said.
Mackay, who was Freeman’s individual coach for seven years, set out to teach the fundamentals – not just of basketball but of athletics. They threw and caught a baseball and stayed away from basketball-related drills for almost three years to build Freeman’s fundamental athletic skills. They also focused on the shooting technique that Mackay still teaches today: Balanced feet, elbow elevated above horizontal and locked in the follow through, clean wrist snap with fingers pointed down.
Freeman, who now stands 6-foot-9 but 6-10 in shoes, developed enough to play on the international circuit in Europe, China and at tournaments in the United States like the Adidas Uprising Tournament and the Adidas Nations tournament, where he met with Adams – a fellow Kiwi.
“He’ll bring the attitude that he’s going to continue to get better,” said Mackay, who attributed Freeman’s great floor movement to years of together. “He’s just going to bring some real skill.”
Early in the development process, Freeman used to consistently lose shooting contests to Mackay, who would let the growing boy know about it. That doesn’t happen anymore. It might have also led to a game that Mackay called “quite special.”
Both were selected to represent New Zealand – Mackay as the team’s coach and Freeman on the roster – in the u17 world championships, when the Kiwis upset Australia, which went on to finish second to the United States.
“We’re a little country,” Mackay said of the nation with a population of about 4.5 million – four million fewer people than New York City. “To step up and beat Australia is a big moment, and it doesn’t happen a lot. Matt was a big player in that game. We shared that moment. . . . When he committed to (Oklahoma), it was a proud moment for me in my life – a really proud moment.”
When Freeman’s older brother left for college to study journalism, it wasn’t very far to the university. Freeman has a bit longer distance to travel, but his father did point out that a flight from the Freemans’ hometown of Auckland, New Zealand to Houston is opening soon.
Many might struggle with the transition, but the outgoing and mature Freeman, who was described as a big personality, shouldn’t have a problem with it.
“He’s gonna bring a lot of flavor and a lot of energy,” Mackay said. “He’s the guy who will be up on his feet banging his chest.”
On the court, Freeman helps to round out the 2016 class for Oklahoma, which was looking for a post player and a shooter before Freeman’s commitment. He provides both.
Freeman shot 48.2 percent from behind the 3-point arc at the adidas Nations tournament, where he averaged 17.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
“They’ve been saying how much they want me for quite a while,” Freeman said of Oklahoma. “That’s important as well. It makes me feel wanted and makes me feel like I’ll be a key part of the program.”
Having watched American college basketball from afar, Jonathan Freeman said he and his wife are looking forward to watching a few games in person during the coming years.
He wasn’t at all worried about his son’s situation.
“They’re just great people who will really look after Matt,” Jonathan Freeman said. “They’ll do a fantastic job in developing him and taking his game to the next level. . . . Everybody talks about team culture, but I think it’s really true at OU.”
The morning Freeman, who was recruited by assistant coach Lew Hill, committed to Oklahoma, he didn’t have much time to celebrate. He had to go to school that day. Now, he knows where he’ll be for the next few years.
“It’s good to be a Sooner,” Freeman said.