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Rhody’s Brayon Freeman is maturing before our eyes

Brayon Freeman
Photo: Alan Hubbard

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BRAYON AND THE RAMS TAKE ON LA SALLE SATURDAY, JANUARY 28 AT 2PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.

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Rhode Island sophomore guard Brayon Freeman’s journey continues to unfold before us. From his intra-conference transfer to URI (from GW) to his recalibration pause in November to his inspired play as we roll toward February – there’s been steady growth. The 6-2, 180 pound Freeman is averaging 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, looking more like the preseason all-conference third team selection he was tabbed as while the weeks pass. We caught up Thursday evening for a quick but engaging conversation.

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Chris DiSano: Let’s dig in on your growth between October and now as a player and person. What have been the greatest areas of growth for you?

Brayon Freeman: I would say the biggest two areas I can think of off the top are maturity and leadership. Leadership because in this position we have many guys who haven’t played a ton and haven’t had a role in college basketball. So as someone with some experience, being a guy who knows what to do, what to say, and in a certain moment knows what should happen… being that guy and taking on that role has been new. Last year as you know I didn’t have to take on that role. I had two guys in James Bishop and Joe Bamisile that handled all of those things. It was new for me and hard for me… and I think I’m finally getting  the grasp of it for the most part. And Maturity because this year has been tough. There’s been a lot of adversity. Sometimes adversity messes with you and fighting through isn’t easy, it’s challenging for anybody. Learning how to fight through it, get through the tough moments, stay positive and in the right mindset. Tough times don’t last forever.

CDD: One area you’re growing in your approach to making plays versus simply being a scorer. The Fordham and Dayton games come to mind among recent ones where your decision-making and floor game was of the type I believe your aiming for… do you agree?

BF: Yeah, for sure. I’m taking on that role… the coaches have showed me a lot of film, I’m understanding the game more. Not every shot I was taking in the beginning of the year… they weren’t all necessarily bad shots but many were tough shots. You realize tough shots in close games, you want those back because you might have had an opportunity to get something better. Understanding that, the importance of each possession, are helping me better understand the game and improve playmaking ability I’m showing more lately.

CDD: On defense, how far do you think you’ve come and what’s an area of improvement to spotlight?

BF: The last couple of games my on-ball pressure has been the best it’s been so far this year. I’ve been picking up a little past half court at times. This is different from the beginning of the year, my ball pressure, and the attention to detail… early on, I’d get beat on the backside, not being in the gap. Little things that overall can really hurt you on defense. I’ve been focusing and concentrating on the smaller things – it’s not always about the homerun play.

CDD: Let’s talk about the Dayton win. Can you reflect on what it meant to this team?

BF: That was a statement win and a confidence booster. It’s been an up-and-down season so far… and to come out and beat the supposed top team in your conference at home and being up double-digits for large periods of the game is huge. Most of our games we’ve been up on teams but it comes down to the last five minutes, closing-time. That’s been the key all season. Against UD, it was icing on the cake. We didn’t close the best, but we showed some growth. When it’s cloudy sometimes, you need to look and ask if you’re getting better. We can look back at that game and know we got better, not 100% better but 2% or 3%.

Brayon Freeman
Photo: Alan Hubbard

CDD: At the beginning of the season, it was uphill to close any game. Now from Fordham to St. Bonaventure to Dayton, more are being closed. The hit rate is improving. In your mind, why?

BF: Trust. Trust is a big thing when closing… and overall chemistry. This is a new team. The chemistry and trust that the next guy was going to do the right thing down the stretch wasn’t there as much in the beginning, but as we go through it together and play more games chemistry works on its own and comes naturally… and as we get to this part of the season it is finally starting to click with everybody.

CDD:  Against UD… you, Ishmael [Leggett] and Jalen [Carey] played 108 mins, scored 58 points, went 16-20 from the free throw line, and played solid floor games on both ends in 34, 35, and 39 minutes. Describe what it’s been like getting to know these guys, playing with them, and what makes them special and contributes to your enjoyment playing with them?

BF: It’s been great. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Ish is a workhorse. He does it all. Hits the open shot, creates his own shot, rebounds like he’s 6-8 with two or three offensive rebound putbacks with the and-1 per game. He’s out there doing whatever needs to be done to try to get the W.

And Swae [Jalen] is a pest on both ends. On the ball defensively, guarding the best player, rebounding, shooting efficient, making plays and getting to the basket – they both bring special things to the team. They are leaders, they talk, and they’re great teammates… and as you see it’s clicking for them as well.

Brayon Freeman
Photo: Alan Hubbard

CDD: At La Salle a couple of weeks back: a 12-point lead and ultimately it slipped away with an overtime loss. How much are you looking forward to getting these guys into the Ryan Center and getting another crack at home?

BF: I can’t wait. Getting a round two especially after round one. We were up 12… and the last five minutes got to us and in OT, when you’re on the road and it goes to OT, it’s challenging to get the momentum back. We’re at our place. Hopefully if we get that 12 point lead we’ll just win it like we should have the first time.

CDD: Last one…at the end of the La Salle game at Tom Gola Arena you ended up diving over the scorer’s table and landing in my and Steve Mac’s laps (also nailing engineer Andrew Meehan’s finger). Can you avoid repeating that this time?

BF: I don’t know. I can’t make any promises (laughs)… if the ball is going over there all I can say is watch out and move your laptops as fast as possible.

CDD: Amen to that. I’m not that old yet that I can’t get out of the way… I’m not going to speak for Steve though … Best of luck this weekend.

BF: Thank you!

Chris DiSano is Rhode Island’s color commentator for Learfield, an Atlantic 10 analyst, and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44