"At fourth school, Freelove finds home"
Slashing, smooth-shooting guard has settled into Hurley's system
UB is the fourth school Josh Freelove has attended in his five-year college basketball career. It's natural to ask skeptical questions:
Where is his loyalty? How can you know if he cares about Buffalo?
In fact, loyalty and trust define him.
Freelove, who is averaging 12.5 points per game, didn't intend to bounce around in college. It wasn't something he enjoyed. It was just the way things worked out. After Freelove verbally committed to Toledo in high school, his father, Gregory, received a call from VCU head coach Shaka Smart - one of the most respected up-and-coming coaches in college ball.
Freelove and his family, who always make decisions together, turned down the offer - it was all about loyalty, and he had already given the verbal to Toledo. "It was pretty tough [declining Smart's offer], but the recruiting came on late and I got some big offers after the Toledo offer," Freelove said. "But I felt as though everyone had an opportunity to offer but Toledo jumped on it."
Five years later, Freelove is the Bulls' second-leading scorer. It's taken a long time - and several schools - but Freelove believes he has finally found his home.
"I wish I would have started here as a freshman," Freelove said. "This is the best school for me and it's sad I only got one year."
Freelove loves several things about Buffalo: the passion for basketball, the feel that the program is more of a professional organization and, of course, the opportunity to play for college basketball legend Bobby Hurley, UB's first-year head coach.
Freelove left his third and most recent school, Alabama State, after the NCAA placed it on probation for academic penalties. Freelove was allowed to transfer and not sit out a year because of the penalties. He visited Auburn and had interest in some other schools, but once he and his father found out Hurley was Buffalo's coach, the decision was easy.
"Josh had other options, but as soon as Hurley came out as the coach, as far as I was concerned that was it," Gregory said.
Gregory wasn't concerned with Hurley's lack of coaching experience. He wanted to put Freelove behind a "real good basketball mind ... from a basketball family."
So far, it has worked. Hurley's style of play has opened the floor for Freelove and has allowed him to play in the open court and take his defender one-on-one. Freelove says Hurley has brought out his potential better than anyone he's ever coached.
Perhaps it's because of how similar the two are. Off the court, both Freelove and Hurley are quiet and laid back. But their demeanor changes once they step on the court. They're fiery and energetic - the court is an outlet of empowerment.
"I feel free out there," Freelove said.
He learned that freedom from his father, who taught Freelove everything he knows about basketball. Gregory was his AAU coach when Freelove was a kid.
"Who you are on the court is going to be who you are in life," Gregory said. "If you give everything on the court, then you'll give everything in life."
And it seems the two are in agreement on what Gregory's most important lesson was.
"One person can't stop you; if one person can stop me, I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do," Freelove said. "To not even worry about the first person and just be worried about the next person and to be able to find a way to score."
Freelove struggled with that mentality out of high school.
During his freshman season at Toledo, the style of play didn't fit him, and he struggled to get playing time. At the year's end, his coach Gene Cross - whom Freelove had committed to, declining offers from bigger schools - left Toledo. The move solidified Freelove's decision to transfer.
He went to Lewis and Clark Community College so he didn't have to sit out a year because of the NCAA's eligibility requirements for transfers. But after one season, Freelove knew he had to get back to the Division I level. After all, he was a first-team player in Dade County, Fla. He was friends with and shared the floor with prominent players like Brandon Knight (who is averaging 16.7 PPG with the Milwaukee Bucks) and Kenny Boyton (former University of Florida guard now playing in Israel).
Freelove transferred to Alabama State and sat out one season, awaiting eligibility. In the following year, his junior season, he led the team in points and ranked 10th in the SWAC in scoring.
But just as he was getting comfortable and finding his groove, the school was penalized for academics and was not allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament the following year - Freelove was allowed to transfer so he could get that chance.
"The changes [were the most difficult part]," Freelove said. "Never being stuck at one place or being able to create something or cement a career at one place and having to go year to year."
Gregory saw the changes as a roadblock in Freelove's career - that the moving around stunted his growth as a player.
"Some of the moving around, if anything, has slowed him down and not being in a consistent system, if anything, it hurt him," Gregory said.
But Freelove has finally found a home in Buffalo, and he doesn't regret any of the changes from his past, because his career has led him here. Gregory, too, is proud that Freelove has finally gotten the opportunity he had been waiting for.
"I'm just glad that he had an opportunity to find [Buffalo] before he finished," Gregory said. "I believe that Buffalo is probably going to get the best basketball Josh has ever put out there."
Freelove plans to play ball professionally after he graduates. But for now, it's finally his time.