NC States new secret weapon: Lennard Freeman returns to practice

Leading up to the showdown with North Carolina on Saturday, the Wolfpack received a huge boost in practice with Freeman on the scout team

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
NC State forward Lennard Freeman (1) pulls down a rebound in front of Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (0) Saturday

RALEIGH — When the door swung open at the Dail Center following NC State’s practice, there was a familiar sight on the other side. Lennard Freeman was shooting alone, only this time he was putting up mid-range jumpers from 15 feet out.The senior big man is redshirting this season after having a 16-inch steel rod removed from his right shin and replaced with a thicker rod. On Thursday, however, he was finally healthy enough to resume all basketball-related activities, which included heaving shots he’s worked on during rehab.And he wasn’t just taking those shots. Freeman hit seven of the 11 shots he took from the top of the key once the media entered the gym. Hitting that shot has been as much of a focus for Freeman as getting healthy enough to help this year’s team in practice.”I’m trying, man,” Freeman said. “Since I got my surgery, I wasn’t able to do anything but stand and shoot. I got my shot right shooting without jumping after practice, so now hopefully it will translate into games. Coach G’s gonna see that I’ve got it, he just doesn’t know it yet.”Freeman’s return is a personal triumph for him, but also a critical addition for the team. At 6-foot-8, Freeman offers an experienced big man to serve in a scout team role against starters like Abdul-Malik Abu, BeeJay Anya, Omer Yurtseven and Ted Kapita.But what Freeman brings to the fold that Tucker Thompson and Spencer Brickhouse don’t is full knowledge of Mark Gottfried’s offense. Whether he’s serving as Kennedy Meeks to prepare for Saturday or Amile Jefferson in a few weeks, Freeman adds a physical presence that wasn’t previously seen in the Dail Center.”He’s back causing havoc for the scout team and all that,” Terry Henderson said. “We just let Lennard be Lennard, though, man. We’re not try to match him up with nobody.”Torin Dorn shared that same notion following Freeman’s first day back on the court.”He just makes it more competitive,” Dorn said. “He’s helping us on the scout team now, so he’s gonna do his best to make sure we’re prepared to play. When he’s ready to play, he’ll step in and do his job. He’s rehabbing every day and getting better, so that helps us a lot.”Though he admittedly disdains being restricted to the bench this season after playing in 103 games over the last three seasons, there is a clear benefit.Getting the chance to watch new additions to the starting lineup like Dennis Smith Jr., Dorn, Henderson and Yurtseven has been exciting. Blowout wins like Wednesday night against Virginia Tech haven’t always been the case, but Freeman could tell the team was talented from the opener.”I remember watching the first game and being like, ‘Man, thank God y’all don’t suck!'” Freeman said with a laugh. “It sucks not being out there with my guys. But we’ve got good guards, good bigs and a lot of people who can make plays, so this team is fine without me. I’m just over there being a fan of my brothers.”That doesn’t mean he won’t be a necessary component for the Pack next season. With Anya graduating and the possibility of both Abu and Yurtseven going to the 2017 NBA Draft, Freeman will keep chucking long-range jumpers after practice until his time is called.”Oh man, oh my goodness I’m ready,” Freeman said. “I’m about to go ice up a little bit, come back later and keep working. You don’t know how good this feels. I’ve got so much work and energy in me. I’m about to be in the gym forever focused on next season.”