VandyMania Interview: Matt Freije

VandyMania sat down and chatted with 6-9 junior forward Matt Freije at the recent SEC basketball Tipoff 2003. Freije, who knocked down a last-second shot to beat the Harlem Globetrotters Monday night, confessed there were some days the last two years when he dreaded going to practice. But this year, says Freije, "it's like night and day." (A VandyMania exclusive.)

Q: This year's Vanderbilt team looks like it's going to be a lot more physical team than you had last year, but maybe not as good an outside-shooting team. Do you agree?

A: Yeah, our team's a lot different than it was last year. We're more inside-oriented. We're not going to have to rely on the three-point shot as much this year. Last year our outside shot kind of led to our inside play, and they had to get out on our shooters. This year it will be kind of the opposite-- hopefully our inside game will lead to our outside game. Brian Thornton and David Przybyszewski have made big improvements over the offseason, and should be hard to guard. Brian has put on a lot of muscle, and he's in a lot better shape than last year.

Q: What part of your game did you focus on improving the most in the offseason?

A: Strength. Pretty much my game overall. To handle the ball a little better, take a couple of dribbles, pull up and shoot. Also Coach asked me to be more vocal-- to be more of a vocal leader on the team, not just by example.

Q: This past summer I went by the practice gym about three different times, and every time I peeked in, you were in there working. Did you actually live in that gym this summer?

A: No! But I was [in Nashville] from May through the end of August-- I think I was only home a week before school started.

Q: You seem like kind of a quiet personality type, and yet Coach has asked you to be a vocal leader. Does that kind of go against your natural personality to be a rah-rah kind of guy? You're a senior now, in a sense, and kind of like a team captain.

A: It does, but it doesn't. Off the court I'm really not very vocal. On the floor in high school I was pretty vocal, but when I got to Vanderbilt I was just a freshman, and I didn't want to say anything. My sophomore year I didn't really feel like I had earned the right to say anything. But this year, with there not being any seniors on the team other than [walk-on] Matt Carter, I think Russ and I-- it's just our job now. As senior players, we have to be vocal.

Q: How did Coach approach that with you? What did he say to you?

A: He just has a meeting with each of us at the end of the season, and he tells us what he expects of us for next year. He just told me that he expected that from me. I don't remember exactly how he put it, but he had been talking to me about it for a while, that I needed to take that role.

Q: You've got a guy playing behind you now in freshman Julian Terrell-- I'm guessing he would probably be a potential backup at the 4-position at this point. How has he looked to you?

A: Julian is a very good basketball player. I've played against him every day in practice so far, and in pick-up games throughout the summer. He's an athlete, an SEC-caliber athlete. He can rebound. Offensive rebounds, he's probably the best on our team. He gets to the boards, and he's very aggressive. With age, he's going to be very good. He works extremely hard. When he first got here his conditioning wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. But now he's in very good condition. I'm his lifting partner during weights, and he's just worked as hard as you could ask him to work. He never takes a day off.

Q: It seems like at every position now, there's a guy who could come in and do a credible job. Does that make you a better player, knowing there's a Julian Terrell over there behind you?

A: Oh, yeah. Last year we didn't have that many players. We played with eight, nine players most of the year. You were going to play, because Coach had to play you. He didn't have that many players to put in there! This year we have 15 guys on the team. If you don't play good, you're going to come out. It makes you go harder in practice, and it makes practice a lot more competitive.

Q: How do you like the two freshman guards, Adam Payton and Mario Moore?

A: They're both very good teammates. Mario's quick. He's energetic. He's going to be a good player for us. Adam, he's very quick, especially guarding the ball. We've had problems in the past guarding guards that are quicker than us. Adam brings a different aspect than other guards we've had on our team. He's just as quick if not quicker than those other guards, and he's going to be able to guard them. I think both of them are going to be able to help us out a lot.

Q: Is going to practice a lot more fun these days?

A: Oh, yeah! I mean, we look forward to practices this year. It's competitive, it's more energetic. We all seem to have a common goal that we're working towards-- to make the NCAA Tournament. We all are competitive, we all want to compete. We realize that in order for us to do that, it starts on the practice court. Coach has done a great job of getting that message to us.

Q: Do you remember in the last two years practice not being fun?

A: Oh, yeah. There were days during the first two years when you would dread going to practice, because first, there weren't a lot of guys to practice, and second, the season would get long and just kind of wear on you. But this year, it's like night and day.

Q: What are you studying in school?

A: Economics.

Q: And what are you working towards doing, assuming professional basketball doesn't work out?

A: To be honest with you, I'm not sure right now. I still have some time to figure that out.

Q: Are you pretty confident about being able to play on the next level?

A: No. I mean, I don't even think about it, to be honest with you. I'm just worrying about this year, and trying to get past the NIT. But I'm not sure what I will do after college.

Q: Do you find the academic work pretty hard?

A: Well, you've got to stay on top of it. But Coach's staff does a good job of having a support system with us to make sure we do what we need to do... that if we need a tutor, we get a tutor, and we stay on top of our work.

Q: I hear Coach Stallings is really paying a lot of attention to grades.

A: Yes, and especially this year. He says that if we take care of stuff off the floor, he'll take care of stuff on the floor. So he's making sure we're in class, that we're making good grades, and putting forth the effort there.

Q: Talk about making the transition from being a Midwesterner, a Kansas City native, to Nashville. Was that a big transition for you?

A: It wasn't too hard. The hardest thing was just leaving my family back at home. I'm one of seven kids. I have one brother and five sisters. Leaving them back home and being here has been the hardest part, I guess. But that was pretty much just my freshman year. After your freshman year, you're fine. You're accustomed to everything.

Q: What do you think it's going to take to get the Vanderbilt program back into the upper echelon of the SEC?

A: Rebounding and defense. In the first practice of the season, Coach told us that the top teams in the SEC last year were also the top rebounding teams last year. So it's not hard to figure out that if you want to win, you've got to rebound. I can't remember what we were, but we were maybe 12-1 or 14-1 when we either won or tied the rebounding war. That speaks for itself-- if you rebound, you win. If you don't, you're gonna lose. If we want to be successful, we've got to rebound.

Q: Bottom line: what are we going to see out of the Commodores this year?

A: Coming to play every night... being more competitive on a nightly basis. I think we're going to be a better rebounding team and a better defensive team. Offensively we're going to try to get it inside before we shoot it. A lot of our play will revolve around our post play. It will be a lot different team than we've had the last two years.

Commodores Daily Top Stories