While all the attention from the United States is focused on Ricky Rubio, Unicaja Malaga’s Joel Freeland is just quietly doing his job and getting better. Freeland, who just 24, is among the best players in Euroleague this season and it seems that the 6-foot-10 forward is getting ready for the NBA.
Freeland, the 30th overall draft pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, averages 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in only 25 minutes per game this season and also led his team Unicaja to the Top-16 phase.
Freeland recently sat down with RealGM to share his views on his development, NBA plans and international hoops.
RealGM: There have been a lot of ups and downs this season for Unicaja this season. Why has your team suffered from inconsistencies?
Freeland: I don’t want to blame anyone. We have to look at ourselves and realize why we’re playing good or playing bad. What I know is now we’re playing a lot better and we’re playing a lot more consistent. There are not a lot of chances of beating us by more than 10 points. That’s what matters the most for me, as we’re playing a lot better.
RealGM: It’s just your second year in the Euroleague and you’re now one of the best players. What is the secret of your success?
Freeland: I just try to work hard and get better everyday. I like to see myself being successful. For me that’s a huge thing. If I’m practicing hard I know I’m going to play good. I try to carry everything I do in practices into the game to help my team and myself at the same time.
RealGM: Do you remember the day you were drafted?
Freeland: It was a long time ago but I remember that (night) like it was yesterday. I was in New York when I was drafted. My parrents and my coach were also there. It was a great experience.
RealGM: Do you keep in touch with Portland Trail Blazers?
Freeland: I have a contact with them and I talk with them. Every now and then probably six orseven times per year they come to see me playing in the ACB (Spanish league) and Euroleague sometimes. They ask me how I’m doing, or if I need anything. It’s mutual respect at the moment until I make my decision when I want to go and if I want to go.
RealGM: Do you feel that you’re ready for the NBA?
Freeland: I don’t know. I only played in two summer leagues and I can’t compare those two summer leagues with the NBA. But if I’m in a sitution, I’m sure I’m going to try to be the best that I can to fit in at any team I would go to. At the moment I’m more focused on my contract here with. I’m just trying to get better and win something. I hope that we will win something in the near future.
RealGM: You’re under a long-term contract with Unicaja. Do you believe that you could spend all those five years in Spain?
Freeland: Why not? Anything could happen in five years. I have a buyout clause in my contract and I’m not focusing on moving somewhere. I’m focusing on staying here and being the best I can be. I’m in a great situation. I’m improving greatly here in Malaga and I apreciate all the coaches' work (in developing me). No, I’m not thinking about moving. I just want to be on my contract, play good, play hard everyday and try to win.
RealGM: Talking about national basketball, do you plan to play for your country?
Freeland: Of course. I missed last year but this year I will definitely play. I didn’t play last year because of my ankle. I was having problems with my ankle and I wanted to fix it before I come to Malaga.
RealGM: Great Britain will have to face teams like Lithuania, Turkey and Spain in Eurobasket 2011 group stage. What’s your expectations of this group?
Freeland: We’re fighters and GB is a team of fighters. We take every challenge. I remember the last EuroBasket, for us it’s great archievement to almost beat a team like Spain, world champions. I just know that we wil have a good team and will be ready. We’re looking forward to this summer to come to Lithuania and play.
RealGM: What is it like to play with Luol Deng on the GB national team. What does he brings to the team?
Freeland: Everything. He brings consistency, passion. He’s a great player and a teammate to play with. A great guy and someone you can learn from. Someone you can talk to and someone who can teach you the game. He’s experienced and it’s a great to have someone, who’s the best and plays like the best. It’s a great to have him on a team.
RealGM: Do you know anything about other guys who have British passports? What is their situation with playing for GB?
Freeland: I haven’t heard anything yet. I know Ben Gordon wants to play but he has problems with his passport or something like that. Maybe he’ll be playing this year, maybe he won’t. Who knows? If he plays, it would be great for us. Another player, who could bring the same as Luol, is Ben. He could be a great asset to the team.
RealGM: Don’t you think that if all best British players would play, it could be one of the best national teams in the world?
Freeland: Yeah, I know we can be from every training camp we have. Our players have the same competitiveness as those we play against in Europe, Euroleague, ACB or everywhere. I know we can. It’s a matter of having all our best players together at one time.
RealGM: Do you see any progression in British basketball?
Freeland: I don’t spend much time there because I have to spend 10 months in Spain and I haven’t really seen any improvements at the moment but I’m sure our GB team will push basketball in England. I would like to see statistics and I would like to see England people getting more interested in basketball. And I think it’s happening.
RealGM: In your opinion, was it a good decision to change Eurobasket 2011 from 16 to 24?
Freeland: It doesn’t matter for me. I’m ready to play against anyone. It doesn’t matter for me if it’s 48 teams in EuroBasket. It’s a great prestigious tournament and everyone should be honored, who gets a chance to play there.