RALEIGH Lennard Freeman committed to N.C. State late and has done more early in his career than most people thought was possible.
The freshman forward has started eight of 11 games and averages 7.2 rebounds for the Wolfpack, which is second on the team and 10th in the ACC.
Not bad for a recruiting post-script who has been a selfless role player for the Wolfpack (9-2), which hosts No. 25 Missouri (10-1) on Saturday night.
Freeman is not interested in any credit for the toughness and hustle he has injected into the program, which had a shortage of both last season.
He’s not real interested in any personal redemption stories about about being overlooked and underrated on the recruiting trail, either. It’s just not how he’s wired.
“I want to win,” Freeman said. “If I have to sit on the bench and we win, I’m happy. As long as we win, I’m happy.”
Freeman, 6-8 and 245 pounds, has been happy lately. The Wolfpack has won seven straight and Freeman has seen his rebounding average rise from 5.5 to 8.1 during the streak.
Of all the players who have benefited from senior forward Jordan Vandenberg’s return from an ankle injury, maybe Freeman has the most. That’s not by accident, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
“They both play to their strength,” Gottfried said. “Neither one tries to make plays they can’t. It’s nice that they understand what they can do.”
With Vandenberg in the lineup, Freeman doesn’t have to guard the opponent’s biggest player. He also has some more free space with Vandenberg around the basket.
“I go challenge the shot and he gets the rebound, that’s usually how it works,” Vandenberg said.
Vandenberg and Freeman work well together. They have formed an instant chemistry, which is particularly interesting given how different they are in age. Vandenberg, a fifth-year senior, is 23. Freeman just turned 18 on Dec. 10.
“He’s a man,” Vandenberg said. “I don’t care what his age is, he’s a full-grown man. I think his birth certificate is a mistake.”
Freeman gets teased by teammates about his age a lot. They usually a “baby” or a “little” in front of his name, which is pronounced “Len-NARD.” Freeman takes most of the ribbing in stride, except when people call him, “Leonard.”
“I hate Leonard,” he said.
The pronunciation of Freeman’s name and any doubts about his height — “I’m a legit 6-8” — are about the only way to get his goat. Very little bothers him on the court.
Freeman’s not a player who needs the spotlight or his own shine; he was the same way at Oak Hill and with Team Takeover, his Washington-based AAU team.
“He does a lot of the dirty work,” junior guard Ralston Turner said. “You need that to win games.”
Assistant coach Rob Moxley and coach Mark Gottfried both noticed Freeman early in the recruiting process. Freeman was AAU teammates with fellow freshman forward BeeJay Anya. Freeman didn’t commit until late April, though, after Anya and Kyle Washington had.
Freeman’s young enough, he actually considered reclassifying into the class of 2014. He decided to make the late decision to go to State instead.
Late additions don’t always work out in recruiting, especially the younger and underrated variety.
“I understand that,” Freeman said, “and I heard that a lot. But I don’t really listen to what other people think. I know what I can do.”
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