Freije: 'This is the reason I play basketball'

In his four illustrious years at Vanderbilt, Matt Freije has accomplished just about every goal he's ever set... except one. On Friday, he and his fellow seniors will realize their greatest dream-- to play in an NCAA Tournament-- as the Commodores take on Western Michigan in Orlando. Freije talks candidly about finally achieving his dream, and looks ahead to Friday's game.


Q: Matt, you guys had to have been getting a little nervous as it came down to the end of the Selection Show on Sunday, and Vanderbilt was one of the last names to be called.

Matt Freije: Yeah, I wasn't really paying much attention to what numbers were going to be coming up next, and it was the last game to be played. Seeing where South Carolina was at, I got a little bit nervous. But it turned out all right. The excitement just got built up more and more. It was just an incredible feeling when they finally revealed our name.

Q: Were there hugs, high fives all around, that kind of thing?

Matt: Yeah, everybody jumped up and started yelling, and some guys were crying. It was just amazing.

Q: How would you describe Coach Stallings immediately afterwards? What kind of things did he have to say to you guys immediately you heard your name?

Matt: It took me a minute to even realize he was there! We were jumping up and down for a while. Then he started talking about how proud he was of us, and how we've earned this, and how happy he was for us. Then he talked about how we ought to look at it as a four-team tournament and take it one step at a time, and focus on Western Michigan right now.

Q: After all the adversity all you seniors have gone through, what does this all mean to you? After you had the season you had last year, there were probably a lot of doubters who said, there's no way that team would be able to get back into the tournament this year.

Matt: It means the world to me. This is the reason I play basketball, to get to this point. Just to make it is the greatest feeling in the world. It's a better feeling than I could ever imagine. It makes everything that we've gone through in past years worth it. I just wouldn't trade it for anything. We only won 11 games last year. For us to be able to come back this year and make the tournament with the same group of guys just shows how hard we've worked and how good of a job Coach Stallings has done. We're gonna be excited.

Q: You had a couple of off nights shooting in the SEC Tournament. Are you confident that your shot will come back this week?

Matt: Yeah, it'll come back. I guess the best way to describe it is like a golf swing. I'll just practice it on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and come out firing on Friday.

Q: But you know, right, that you have to score better in order to have a chance to advance in the NCAA?

Matt: Oh, yeah. I do need to play well. I need to take it as a challenge and just play hard, and hopefully play the best basketball I've ever played in a Vanderbilt uniform the next couple of weeks. But [the SEC Tournament] showed that I don't have to play great for us to win every game. I didn't play good Thursday or Friday, and we still won both games-- and that Mississippi State team is one of the best in the nation. Yes, I do need to play well, but at the same time, we've got other guys on our team who can step up and make plays and make big shots for us.

Q: What does it say about this team that you were able to win there a couple of nights even though you struggled with your shot?

Matt: It shows a lot about our team-- it shows that we are a team, all twelve of us. Mississippi State is one of the top teams in the nation. They were vying for a number one seed when we played them. I only shot 5-for-16, and we still won. I think that just shows how much of a team we really are. When I went cold, J. T. [Julian Terrell] busted out and had his best game of the season. We're a team from top to bottom. We've come close in some games this year that we should have pulled out. We were kind of up and down during the SEC. We started off 3-5, then finished 5-3, then we won two in a row in the SEC Tournament. We just hope we can ride some of that momentum into the NCAA.

Q: What can you say about Mario Moore and how he played in the SEC Tournament? He played really well [in the SEC Tournament] the year before too.

Matt: Yeah, I'm not sure, it must be something about getting in that big arena and having that spotlight on him. He had a little extra bounce in his step, even in the hotel. He seems to get excited when he gets on a big stage like that. Hopefully that will carry over too.

Matt Freije's personal cheering section, consisting of three sisters and a first cousin, shows its support for Matt at a recent game. (VandyMania / Brent Wiseman)

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