Despite a herculean effort Matt Freeman was unable to lead Westlake Boys’ High School to a sixth National basketball title in 11 years.
In the decider Auckland champions Rangitoto College proved too strong winning 80-63, despite a game-high 28 points by Freeman.
“You’ve got to hand it to Rangitoto. They were too strong for us. Their depth allowed them to rotate a lot and never lose momentum. They forced us into taking bad shots,” Freeman concedes.
Westlake only hit 2-17 three pointers and were out-rebounded 48-34.
Westlake had to work extremely hard just to qualify for the final. They dropped a group game to eventual semi-finalists Rotorua Boys’ High School and were forced to face Middleton Grange in the quarter finals.
Middleton had last year’s tournament MVP Sam Timmins in their roster. The game turned out to be a rollercoaster.
Westlake built a lead of 19 at one stage in the first half, only for Middleton Grange to come roaring back and build their own double digit lead, up 79-63 with less than six minutes to play after a Jackson Stent (32 points) dunk.
At this point Freeman admits he thought Westlake were finished.
“I thought we were gone, but we never give up.”
After a timeout Westlake embarked on a 10-0, Freeman was responsible for every point with a three, a floater, dunk, and then an impressive step back three.
Rattled Middleton started to miss and eventually Westlake overhauled the South Island champions and prevailed 91-86. Freeman finished with 47 points. Logan Hunt contributed 18.
How much did Freeman enjoy getting one over Timmins?
“Playing Sam is a lot of fun. We have spent a lot of time together and he is like my brother. We have a rivalry like brothers on the court. It’s intense, but respectful,” Freeman says.
Another figure Freeman respects is Fraser High School coach Jeff Green. The polarising four-time National basketball league champion has had his critics over the years, but Freeman is a fan.
“I form my own opinions on people and I really like Jeff. I had him as a coach and found him knowledgeable and passionate.”
Passions were high when Westlake faced Fraser in the semi-finals. The lead changed hands eleven times in the first-half and scores were tied 99-99 with five seconds remaining when Freeman converted a difficult baseline turnaround jump shot to win the game 101-99. Freeman scored a staggering 50 points.
“If I am being honest the quarter and semi were the best games I have played for Westlake, but that wouldn’t be possible without the support of my teammates. They gave me good looks to do my thing,” Freeman says.
Jeff Green was doing his thing, willing or taunting his own players to do better and occasionally chipping away at Freeman.
“He was saying Freeman’s not that good, he can’t rebound. He came up to me at the end of the game and said, ‘you’re still the man,’” Freeman laughs.
Playing his last game for Westlake is no laughing matter for Freeman. He leaves with the 2012 National title and a place on the 2014 and 2015 tournament teams.
“College basketball is something I will never forget. It’s always fun training and playing with your mates. I will miss if for sure,” Freeman admits.
In January Freeman will leave New Zealand and commence his basketball scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a NCAA Division I college and the former home of NBA superstar Blake Griffin.
Freeman says the “family oriented” approach of the institution appealed, especially given he is a long way from home.
Freeman will spend the first six months observing as the season will be at the halfway point when he arrives.
In 2016/17, he hopes to push for a spot in the roster and eventually became a professional.
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