Matt Freije: Vandy's weapon of mass destruction

Vandy's All-America candidate, 6-10 forward Matt Freije, is off to a rip-roaring start, averaging 21.7 points and 9 rebounds in his first three games. In part two of a two-part interview, Freije shares his thoughts about his growing-up years, his possible future in the NBA, and what it would be like to play in an NCAA Tournament. The Commodores (3-0) host IUPUI Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT.

Ed. note: This is part two of a two-part interview with Vanderbilt senior forward Matt Freije, conducted before the start of the regular season. To read part one of this interview, click here.


Q: Looking at Vanderbilt, do you think this is going to be a team that surprises a lot of people once you get into SEC play this year?

A: Well, every year there's a dark horse in the SEC, and our chance of being that team is just as good as anybody else's. I mean, not a lot of people have put a lot of expectations on us. The opportunity is there. It's been pretty low-key in our practices this year. There haven't been any distractions. We've been able to just go out and play, and get done what we need to get done.

Q: You seem to like playing away from the basket and seeing how the other team reacts. Is that a big part of the game plan in a lot of games?

A: Yeah, I like to think I make a matchup problem for a lot of teams. I try to take advantage of being able to play both inside and outside. You get a guy thinking that you're always going to be outside, and you sneak back underneath the basket and try to get him underneath the rim. It's just something I've learned over the years, when to go outside and when to play inside.

Q: You have five sisters, right? That must be like having a whole bunch of cheerleaders!

A: It is. I'm the second oldest. They love coming to Nashville and watching me play. None of them really play basketball, except for a little sister in seventh grade. I have five sisters, and I have a younger brother. I also have a stepsister who got married this summer, and a stepbrother.

Q: What age were you when you went through a growth spurt?

A: My freshman year. Well, I've always been taller than everyone else, but I was 6-3, maybe, my freshman year, and my sophomore year I grew up to 6-8. And I gained about an inch and a half since then. My sophomore year in high school I went to a camp at UM-KC, and the coach there talked to me and told me that I had a chance to earn a college scholarship if I worked hard. My high school coach, Donnie Campbell, told me that a lot, and I just kind of looked at him like he was crazy most of the time. But by my sophomore year, I had started thinking he was right about it. Other than my Dad, I probably spent more time with Coach Campbell than any other person. He's been a big part of my life. When I go home I see him. We keep in touch through E-mails.

Q: How good was the high school basketball scene in Kansas City where you played? How big of an adjustment was it when you went to college basketball?

A: The competition was actually pretty good my senior year. We had a bunch of guys who played some great individual basketball, so it was pretty good. You're going to run into teams sometimes that don't have a big guy to play with, but for the most part it was good competition.

Q: What's it like to get all this preseason recognition? To be listed in all these magazines, and to be named the preseason player of the year in the SEC?

A: It's nice to be recognized before the season starts, but you can't put too much stock in it. You've still got to go out and play about 30 games. Hopefully they'll be saying the same nice things after the season that they were before it! But somebody's going to step up this year. It happens every year.

Q: Coach Stallings has said that he had had to change certain things in order for this season to be successful. What's your perspective on that? And were there certain things that you, the players had to change too?

A: Yeah, definitely. We kind of learned about some of the things that can come between team members, and destroy a team from the inside. Knowing it now, I think we can prevent it. I don't see it being a problem this year. We've got a bunch of guys on our team that have really come together, especially with our trip to Spain. I mean, you get 13 guys over in a foreign country, and none of us know the language, you kind of come together and learn a lot more about each other. It was a good bonding experience for all of us, and it's carried over into the school year.

Q: Is there some added pressure on you, knowing that if you don't do well, this could be Coach Stallings' last year?

A: I try not to listen to that kind of stuff, as much as possible. A lot of it's just rumors. Unless somebody comes and tells me something, I'm not going to put much stock in it. Our seniors have put a lot of pressure on ourselves, just because we're Coach Stallings' first recruiting class. He brought us here to do a job, and this is our last year to do it. Every year that I've been here we've had to play freshmen-- from last year, when we had two freshmen playing, back to my freshman year, when we had four freshmen playing. It's hard to win when you've got a lot of freshmen playing. This year, I mean, Dan Cage is a good player, but we've got experienced guys who can play.

Q: What would it be like to get to the NCAA Tournament this year?

A: That would be a dream come true. It's something that I've set as a goal for myself when I came here, and that's how we seniors want to be remembered. That's what you play college basketball for, to play in a tournament. It would be a big deal for us.

Q: Were you surprised to see so many SEC teams go out early in the NCAA Tournament last year?

A: Yeah, that was surprising. We tried to watch as many of those games as we could on TV, and I was surprised that some of those teams made early exits. It was good to see Kentucky get as far as they did, and Auburn get as far as they did. It would have been nice to see a couple of others get as far.

Q: The NBA has got to be in the back of your mind. What's that like for you right now?

A: During the season you don't really think about it. In the off-season you work on your game and the things you need to improve on. But during the season you focus on your team and what you need to do to win. After the season I'll sit down with Coach and talk about it, but I'm not real worried about it right now. We need to win some games this year. Top Stories