24: Freeman, Hawkeyes have high expectations

Oct. 15, 2007

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 2, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2007-08 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa junior Tony Freeman is excited for the season, he has high expectations for himself and the team and more importantly, he feels 100 percent.

But when Freeman and the Hawkeyes take the court this season, they will all represent 9 percent, or 1/11th of the whole. “Team first” and “team ego” are two phrases that will be tossed out frequently by first-year Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter.

“Everybody’s real excited and ready to get this going,” Freeman said. “We have an overall team concept and we’re not centered around one or two people.”

With 11 players on the roster, everyone will be considered an equal and valuable piece of the puzzle. That includes Freeman, who last season led the Hawkeyes in assists (113, 3.8 per game) from his guard position. Ball distribution is stressed in the Lickliter system.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Tony,” said Lickliter, the 2007 Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “He’s demonstrated a real desire to be part of a special team. He’s shown a tremendous work ethic and he should be a great example this season. He also has great support from his teammates.”

Freeman, a native of Maywood, Ill., was heavily recruited out of St. Joseph’s High School, where he finished second on the school’s all-time points list with 1,706. That trailed only Isiah Thomas, who went on to a stellar college and pro career. Freeman was the only player in East Suburban Catholic League history to be named first team all-conference four years. During that time St. Joseph’s averaged more than 22 wins a season (89-25). Freeman shared team MVP honors as a sophomore and won the award outright as a junior and senior, when he was also named league MVP after leading the Chargers to back-to-back conference championships.

Enjoying success in basketball is nothing new to the Freeman family. Tony’s father was a letterwinner for the 1987 Indiana team that won the NCAA championship.

As a college freshman in 2005-06, Freeman averaged 3.4 points and 1.6 assists in 33 games (four starts). He scored a season-high 10 points (with four assists) during a victory against Michigan. Those figures rose dramatically for Freeman last season as a sophomore. He played 30 games (starting 16 times), averaging 7.4 points and a team-high 3.8 assists per game. Freeman was third on the team with 35 three-point field goals. He established career highs last season in assists (11 against The Citadel), points (16 against Alabama) and rebounds (nine against Minnesota).

“We have high expectations this year,” Freeman said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s about going out every day and getting better. We’re a family.”

“Every day in practice we’re trying to better ourselves and promote the team concept and get better as a whole. We’re excited to go out and show people what we can do because we know we’re going to be a real good team this year.”
Iowa junior Tony Freeman

Three starters — Freeman, senior Kurt Looby and junior Cyrus Tate — return for Iowa, along with the following letterwinners: seniors Seth Gorney and Justin Johnson and junior J.R. Angle. Non-lettermen returning are sophomores David Palmer and Dan Bohall. The three-member freshman class includes Jarryd Cole, Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson.

Even though Freeman insists that preseason practice time hasn’t been spent trying to specifically impress Lickliter, the concepts preached by the new coach are clearly a driving force.

“Every day in practice we’re trying to better ourselves and promote the team concept and get better as a whole,” Freeman said. “We’re excited to go out and show people what we can do because we know we’re going to be a real good team this year.”

That’s with a big emphasis on team.

Freeman is majoring in interdepartmental studies and hopes to one day “be my own boss and work for myself” in an undecided line of business. Last season he earned an academic recognition award and the Chris Street Award. The latter is named in honor of the former Hawkeye and is presented annually to a UI player who best exemplifies the spirit, enthusiasm and intensity of Chris Street.

It didn’t take Freeman long during the recruiting process to realize that Iowa was where he wanted to become a student-athlete.

“The guys on the team and the overall atmosphere here was real caring,” Freeman said. “They catered to me and it was a nice family environment. Everyone on campus knows who you are and supports the Hawkeyes.”

Freeman has his sights set on an undefeated season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (19 regular-season games), and a top three finish in the Big Ten Conference.

Lickliter led Butler to a 131-61 record in six seasons, including two trips to the Sweet 16 and two berths in the NIT. He wants his teams to share and value the basketball with a strong emphasis on defense. Last season the Bulldogs averaged 12.1 assists and just 9.5 turnovers per game. They held opponents to 57.1 points per game (40.6 field goal percentage) and four Butler players averaged 9.1 points or better.

Freeman appears to be a perfect fit for that sort of scheme.

“Defense is the best part of the game for me,” Freeman said. “I love making people miss shots and deflecting passes. Defense isn’t about talent and athleticism as much as it’s about determination.”

Freeman calls his new coach a “teacher of the game” and once a player receives Lickliter’s message, the coach will “explain and show you what to do,” Freeman said.

To succeed in this Hawkeye system, a player must do much more than distribute the basketball. He will also have to distribute praise and credit. After all, Freeman is just a fraction of the 11-piece Hawkeye puzzle.

Click HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.