Matt Freije: After my junior year, my high school coach and I sat down and talked about the pros and cons of playing AAU basketball before my senior year. Basically he told me that he thought it would be better for me not to play, and spend the time that I'd be playing in the weight room and with him in our gym working one-on-one. I think it worked out for me. My high school coach [Donnie Campbell] did a lot for me. He talked to a lot of teams for me. A lot of teams came in and watched me do individual workouts. If you're a big man playing AAU basketball, you might get a couple of shots up every game. If you go down to the gym with your basketball coach, you ought to get a couple of hundred shots up. That really helped me get ready for college basketball.
VM: What was your reaction when you heard Vandy was restructuring its athletic department?
Matt: Well, kind of like you guys, it was a shock. But since then I've talked with Brock Williams, and David Williams is one of my professors. They say there really will be no changes in the way things get done. Some things have changed, but not really anything that would affect the players. There's nothing different for me or any of my teammates.
VM: It seems like a lot of that announcement was about integrating the athlete into the student body. Do you feel like that was something that really needed to change? It seems as though that's not really that big a problem at Vanderbilt.
Matt: To me it wasn't a big problem. A lot of the guys on the basketball team are involved in a few things. I don't know how exactly they're going to try to incorporate us with them. But if it's good for the university and good for our team, then I'm for it.
VM: The three games you played against Kentucky last year were all very interesting games. What do you remember most about those games?
Matt: Mainly their defense. Keith Bogans was the best player in the league last year, and he got the most out of that team every night. Everybody played their role. If you beat your man off the dribble, the other man was right there. They played help-side defense, and they help the helper, and they did everything a good defense is supposed to do.
VM: Do you feel like the team is better equipped this year to handle that kind of defense?
Matt: Yeah. I think so. If they play defense like that, I don't know many teams that are equipped for that. But Russell [Lakey] is a senior this year, and Mario [Moore] is a year older and a year stronger. We should be a lot better against teams that apply pressure.
VM: It seems like last year there were so many great big men in the league that are gone this year-- Dudley, Slay, Austin-- and you're just about the only one left. Does that give you some confidence that Vanderbilt can improve on last year?
Matt: Well, yeah, that does, but more importantly than that is how everybody attacked this off-season, and went about the weight room and pickup games. The whole team was here for at least two sessions of summer school. Mario and Julian live in Nashville, so they were there lifting weights every day. I was in Nashville all summer. We just made a commitment to each other that we were going to do everything we could to improve. Julian Terrell has put on 25 pounds. David Przybyszewski has put on weight, and has improved his vertical by about three inches-- which is a lot to improve in just a few months. I've put on about 25 pounds-- 248 was my heaviest, and I'm up to about 245 right now. I hope to play at about 245... but with practice, it will drop your weight pretty quick. But it's helping me to keep my position on the blocks. It's not as easy for guys to push me off any more.
VM: For you it's kind of a struggle to keep on weight, right?
Matt: Yeah, it always has been. If I get tired, I'd rather go take a nap than eat. It's been kind of a challenge for me to stay awake and eat! But I know it's what I need to do. I weighed 210 maybe when I got here.
VM: Last year Vanderbilt got away from the three-pointer a little bit. Will you guys go back to it more this year, you think?
Matt: I think it will just depend on who we're playing against. Against teams that aren't quite as big inside, we'll try to pound it in. Against teams that are, we'll try to beat them with some of our quickness on the outside.
VM: Are you feeling some pressure this year? Will what happened last year motivate you guys this year?
Matt: Yeah, that's why we made this commitment to each other to do what we did in the off-season. Especially our seniors. We have a lot to prove. We have a lot to live up to, being Coach Stallings' first recruiting class at Vanderbilt. Yeah, we were embarrassed with the way we finished the season. We're not going to let it happen again.
VM: Speaking of that recruiting class, several guys that came in with you aren't around any more. How do you account for that? Are you a little ticked off by it?
Matt: No, I'm not upset about it. They have to do what was best for them. We all still kind of keep up with those guys, and what they're doing. We heard that Brendan Plavich was named captain of the team at UNC Charlotte. We watched Billy Richmond play a couple of times on TV. I wish them both the best of luck. They both were great players. They're both helping their teams. I don't know exactly why any of those guys left. Both of them were pretty quiet types. Well, Billy wasn't really quiet, but he didn't really talk about himself to us.
VM: How does losing Brian Thornton change the chemistry on the team?
Matt: Brian was a good player for us, but he decided to go to Xavier. It's just going to give other guys some opportunity. Julian started the last few games for us last season, and when Brian left, it just gave him the motivation to work as hard as he did last season. I can't tell you how much better he's gotten. Every day this summer we just pushed each other to see how much weight we could move. Ted Skuchas is coming off his redshirt, and he's working really hard. David too. He's up to 252 pounds, and I think he came in weighing 215! They're all playing good, and they all bring something a little bit different to the table. Julian is the most athletic one of the bunch. Ted is the biggest one. They'll all play.