Interview: Matt Freije
GFP: What have you been up to?
Matt Freije: I've been over here in China for the past month. Our season started two weeks ago.
GFP: Who are you playing for?
Matt Freije: The teams here aren't specific to a city. I'm with Fujian SBS Basketball team. SBS is a zipper company that makes 80% of the zippers in the world. The owner of that company owns the team.
GFP: Is your family there with you?
Matt Freije: Unfortunately she's not. I get a break in a few weeks so I'll come back to Nashville. We talk a lot on the phone and do a lot of chatting on the internet.
GFP: What do you do for fun over there?
Matt Freije: I watch my Slingbox, that's about it. It's not bad. They put us up in a nice hotel but the language barrier makes it difficult.
GFP: Have you learned any Chinese?
Matt Freije: I know how to say thank you, hello, and I understand. That's about it. (laughs) It's difficult. Last year I was in Germany and I actually took two years of German at Vandy so I understood a little bit but over here I don't have a clue. They got us a translator but if he's not with me I have no idea.
GFP: You were with the Hawks how did you like living in Atlanta?
Matt Freije: I love Atlanta. The city is awesome. Nashville is my favorite city. That's why I live there now but Atlanta is a lot of fun. It's close to Nashville and that's convenient.
GFP: Is that your goal to get back in the NBA?
Matt Freije: Yes, I think everyone who plays basketball that's their goal. Everyone wants to get a promotion. It's the end goal for everyone who plays basketball.
GFP: What's your most memorable experience playing in the NBA?
Matt Freije: It's not like college where there's a bunch of stuff that sticks out but things that jump out would be sitting around the locker room and talking to Shaq, Pat Riley, Baron Davis, and guys like that. I didn't see the basketball court in my time in the NBA. Being around those guys was fun being able to take all that in.
Matt Freije: The first time I met Shaq was when he had his parade for him coming to Miami. We had no idea what was going on. Me, Udonis Haslem, and Darell Wright and the weight coach said you got to see what is going on. He turned on the TV and there is Shaq pulling up in a 18 wheeler squirting the crowd with a water gun.
GFP: Did Shaq give you a hard time with him being an LSU guy and you a Vandy guy?
Matt Freije: Shaq told me he hated playing at Vanderbilt. It was one of the hardest places that he had to play. He hated playing in our gym.
GFP: Why did you come to Vandy?
Matt Freije: Coach Stallings. I knew before I came on my visit that if the campus and the city was halfway decent I was going to come play for Coach Stallings. When I got here the campus was beautiful and Nashville was great so it made my decision really easy.
GFP: Who was the toughest guy you had to defend?
Matt Freije: It's a tossup between Tayshaun Prince or Matt Bonner, Tayshaun was a better individual player he was hard to defend from the top of the key but Bonner was so tough because his team was so good and you had to be where you had to be then help out on him on jump shots it was really difficult.
GFP: Where was the toughest place to play?
Matt Freije: Kentucky, because I didn't do well there. Some of these guys now probably wouldn't say that (laughs) but it was when I was there.
GFP: What do you remember about beating #1 Alabama at home your Junior year?
Matt Freije: My junior year was a long year. I don't even remember winning games that year it was such a long year. We always played Bama good. Even since I've left Vanderbilt the team gets up for some reason for the Crimson Tide.
GFP: Your senior year how big where those early season wins against Michigan and Indiana?
Matt Freije: I think they meant the world to our season. We worked really hard that summer. We got to practice during the summer because we went to Spain. We went to Spain and played hard there. It validated all the hard work we had done. We knew we had a fighting chance that year. If we would've went in there and laid an egg and lost those two games it would've made it difficult from a mental standpoint and it would've been hard to rebound from that.
GFP: What do you remember about the game against South Carolina where Corey Smith and Balkman got into a fight and we lost due to a tip in at the buzzer?
Matt Freije: That's one of the games that really burns me and it's tough to think about because Corey got in that fight with Balkman and everyone was really edgy. I picked up my only technical foul at Vanderbilt. They got an extra free throw and they won the game by a point. I should've been a little smarter. That one was my bad. I shouldn't have gotten that technical foul.
GFP: Didn't they make peace after that altercation?
Matt Freije: I think they have. When we played them later I the season everything was fine. I know they didn't fight again. (laughs)
GFP: How big was the win over Kentucky a few days after the loss to Carolina?
Matt Freije: It was huge because we had started to let it slip away in the SEC and if we would've lost that one we would've had a mountain to climb because we would've been in the hole in the SEC. We did a good job of winning at home and squeaking a few out on the road to keep us at .500 in the SEC and give us a shot at going to the tournament. It was a team effort and Scott did a great job hitting those free throws at the end of the game.
GFP: How big was the win over UT on Senior night? You had a huge night and refused to lose.
Matt Freije: That night was important because we were sitting at 7-7 and we knew we needed 8 wins to get in the tournament. We knew we had to go to Georgia for our last game and historically we didn't play well there when I was there. It was big not only because it was Senior Night but because it was our eighth conference win. We caught a couple of breaks. Scooter McFadden missed some free throws especially on the front end of some one and ones. I remember Corey hitting a three pointer from the corner. Skuchas had some big offensive rebounds and Russell Lacket banked a huge bank shot off the window. Those are som of the things that stick out to me.
GFP: What do you remember about the big win over Mississippi State in the SEC tournament who had Lawrence Roberts and was on fire all year?
Matt Freije: After winning that one we knew we were in the tournament. It was really a sigh of relief. We didn't want to say it but we knew we were in. Mario played great. JT played one of his best games as a Commodore. Roberts was a beast and JT outplayed him that night. If JT hadn't come off the bench that night we don't have a shot. Mo played big that game. It sealed the deal. We knew we were dancing.
GFP: They were ranked really high going into that game.
Matt Freije: Yeah they were 3 or 4 in the country and vying for a #1 seed and wound up with a 2 seed. They were one of the best teams in the country.
GFP: What went wrong with Florida the next day?
Matt Freije: For one, Florida had a very good basketball team and two, the emotion of that game. We just got done playing two games and we played a tough overtime game and it was really late. I think it's human nature to have a letdown after something like that. It was our goal from the beginning to make the tournament and after beating Mississippi State we were going to be in there and we had a letdown. You can't do that to a good team like Florida and they took it to us.
GFP: What was it about Matt Walsh that made Vandy fans hate him so much?
Matt Freije: (laughs) I think part of it is that he's a very good basketball player. It wasn't just Vandy fans. He got it everywhere he went.
GFP: What do you remember watching the NCAA selection show? We were on of the last teams selected.
Matt Freije: We were at Coach Stalling's house and everyone was definitely nervous. We knew we did enough to be there but for them to keep going on and on. We just wanted to hear our name called. When they finally did we erupted. Some guys cried, some were laughing, and some of them were laughing at the guys who were crying (laughs). It was a good time.
GFP: What did you think about the lack of respect going into the first game against Western Michigan into the tournament?
Matt Freije: It wasn't frustrating at all. It's easy for fans to get caught up in it but we were college students and we didn't have time to watch PTI or ESPN. We didn't focus on that and tried to focus on Western Michigan.
GFP: Bob Ryan said that Vanderbilt was "too white" to win.
Matt Freije: We heard that. All the people in the media asked us about it but it's his opinion and he's just trying to sell newspapers. How many times have you went back and watched the game against NC State?
Matt Freije: Honestly I've gone back and watched it a few times. What's fun is watching it with Russell or some of the guys. Me and Russell have watched it a few times other than that not a lot..
GFP: Did you guys ever lose hope being down 10?
Matt Freije: No, we didn't. When we were in the huddle in timeouts and in the breaks for timeouts. The guys were very encouraging and Coach was too. I don't think weever lost hope a few things went our way and we were able to squeak it out.
GFP: Scott Hundley and Corey Smith went above and beyond those last few minutes.
Matt Freije: Yeah, Honestly looking back it's really funny. The most important play was definitely Scott's steal and Corey getting the intentional foul. We ran the same offense as NC State. There might have been a few wrinkles but it was the exact same plays. It was like playing in practice. And Scott Hundley was notorious for cheating plays in practice. Practice was very competitive. In practice if your team loses you had to run. So Scott would cheat and be where the defense wouldn't normally be because he would always be there. He was always able to think when he played most people can't but he could. Before the game we were watching film and Coach said if it was close late he would put Scott in because he would cheat the play and come up with the steal for us and that's what happened. They were running a play we normally ran and Scott got the steal and passed it Corey and he got fouled. Coach really called that one.
GFP: What did you think when you went to the line for those crucial free throws?
Matt Freije: Not a lot. The one thing I say when I'm at the line is that it's free points. When I was at Vanderbilt during practice we would be shooting free throws and Coach Stallings would always rebound and he would say "free points, free points". Ever since then I've always thought that.
GFP: What are your thoughts about playing UConn?
Matt Freije: I can say with 100% certainty that they were the best team we ever played against. They were very good from top to bottom. They had guys that produced in the NBA. You play against guys that go to the NBA btu don't produce. Ben Gordon averages 20 points in the NBA and Okafor is a double double guy and those guys can play. We just ran into a better team that night.
GFP: Didn't we play them a year or two before that?
Matt Freije: We played them twice. I think it was my sophomore and my junior year. We played there before we went to Hawaii then we played them at Memorial Gym and lost by 6. They were good that year but much better my senior year. Gordon and Okafor were a year older. Josh Boone and Armstrong were good. They had some guys.
GFP: How cool was it to see Dan Cage and Ted Skuchas play in the Sweet Sixteen their senior year?
Matt Freije: It was awesome. My wife and I made a weekend of it and went to New York and watched them play Georgetown. It was really cool to see those guys get back there. Dan told me that he wanted for his senior year to be special too. His freshman year he made the Sweet Sixteen and he really wanted to get back there.
GFP: He had some big shots his freshman year.
Matt Freije: Yeah, he made the shot against Kentucky to put us ahead in that game. He also played some good defense in that game. Dan did some good things for us his freshamn year. And that's something we were missing is someone who can make jump shots. He was good at that and really helped our team.
GFP: I remember you came back for Senior Night and walked out Dawid Przybyszewski since he didn't have any family. How did you work that out?
Matt Freije: It just happned to be that we were there and we had been watching them at practice. Dawid asked us if we would walk out with him. It was Martin Schnedlitz and me. Martin was there getting his MBA at the time.
GFP: Dawid was a great shooter for a big guy.
Matt Freije: He was a shooting guard trapped in a big man's body. Nothing about that 7 footer was a Center. After practice he would try to get guys to play one on one from the top of the key with a two-dribble max so he could work on his hands. It was hilarious.
Matt Freije: He made a lot of match up problems for other teams. Usually teams have one guy that doesn't like to get out on the perimeter and guard and by both of us it forced their big guy to guard someone. It helped in the offense we ran that year having an extra shooter in Dawid it opened the whole lane up for those back door cuts to happen.
GFP: Did you see where Mario is playing for the Broncs?
Matt Freije: Yeah, I just talked to him the other day. I think they are in first place. He had some big shots back in the day.
GFP: What do you think about Corey playing with the Globetrotters?
Matt Freije: I think it was good for him. I think he enjoyed it. He's gone on to do some great things. He was player of the year in Finland. I actually got to play with him in Nashville this summer and we played some pickup ball and he's gotten better and he's a heck of a basketball player now.
GFP: What do you think about the team this year?
Matt Freije: I love watching them. They are a group of guys. I played with them this summer. Coach Stallings is great at not only recruting great players but also great individuals. They didn't know me from Adam and they all treated me with respect. They couldn't be any nicer. They are very talented. They have more talent than when I was ever at Vandy.
Matt Freije: This team is very athletic. Back when I was there Jason Holwerda was an athlete but Taylor is amazing. He's only a freshman. He can jump out of the gym. Lance too, he can jump out of the gym. Festus is the best athlete on the team. He's going to be special. I think he could be one of the most talented guys in the SEC.
GFP: Did you ever play Ogilvy one on one?
Matt Freije: No, but he's got skills. He's preseason SEC for a reason. He's the real deal.
GFP: Do you think Coach Stallings would ever leave Vanderbilt?
Matt Freije: I hope not. But it's up to him and his family. I think he's the perfect coach for that University. He graduates his players and holds academics to a high standard. He wins ball games and brings good kids in. I think he enjoys it and I think he loves Nashville. I hope he never leaves.
GFP: Shan Foster vs. Matt Freijie, who wins?
Matt Freije: One on one? Shane for sure, I have no one on one game. Shane was lates out. He doesn't have the prettiest shot but man it goes in.
GFP: What did you think when he broke your record?
Matt Freije: Honestly, I was so happy for him, I helped recruit him. When he came out for his visit I was a senior. Him, Red, Metcalfe, and Davis, all those guys I followed their careers. I was close to all those guys. I got to spend time with Shan. I got to go meet his family when I was in New Orleans. When he was on Christmas Break I went to his high school and watched a game. He's the nicest guy. He's down to earth and I'm very happy for him.
GFP: Anything else you want to say to the Vandy fans?
Matt Freije: Thanks for four great years.
For more great interviews with Commodores past, present and future visit VandyPride.com.
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