FREELAND NOW EYEING NBA MOVE

Great Britain forward Joel Freeland admits he will likely seek a fresh challenge in the NBA after next year’s Olympic Games.

The 24-year-old – who will be a key figure when GB meets Turkey on Thursday (3.45pm, ESPN) in their second game of EuroBasket in Lithuania – was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 2006 but has opted to remain in Spain where he is now the star of Euroleague outfit Unicaja Malaga.

Two months ago, FC Barcelona baulked at paying a seven-figure transfer fee for his services, leaving Freeland to see out the final year of his contract on the Costa del Sol.

However he is set to seek opportunities to try his luck Stateside when he obtains free agent status next summer.

“It’s definitely something I’m thinking about now,” Freeland confirms. “I feel I’ve proved that I can play at that level. In the back of my mind though will be whether I get the opportunity to contribute to a team.

“I don’t want to go over there, ride the pine and hide my face on TV. That’s not what I want. I want to be a player who can contribute. And when I feel that is available, that’s when I’ll go.”

Britain have benefitted from his presence this summer. Against Lithuania on Wednesday, he was as vital as Luol Deng for long stretches, a visible presence and more assertive than ever before.

14 points were in vain however. These are losses which GB must eventually learn from, he says. “Moral victories are worth nothing, We have to fight even if we’re tired. We have to learn to hold on. Turkey won’t be any easier. This is a hard group Hopefully this will be a shock to our system and we can bounce straight back.”

Freeland has blossomed in his role in Malaga

He will be one of the catalysts if they do. He took a lot from last season when Aito Garcia was fired mid-season as Malaga’s coach and his replacement, Chus Mateo, decided that his own future should be entrusted in the Englishman’s hands. That confidence was repaid as the ACB was given ample proof of just why the NBA holds him dear.

“They had a lot of confidence in me,” he confirms. “I got a lot of touches. I had a lot of chances to score.  And that carried on through the year. And going into this campaign as well.”

He learnt to be ready every single night. It arrived with experience. “Before, I considered myself as a young player but now I’m 24 and I’ve grown up. I’ve learnt a lot from Rob Archibald defensively. I just feel I’m more complete.”

The biggest challenge of all awaits on Friday. Perhaps a game which might define him. Spain, filled with players who he knows well, await GB in the final part of their three-team nightmare start.

The defending champions were almost stunned by Britain in Poland in 2009. In what has become a recurring theme, they were able to escape. How much Freeland would enjoy it if the worm were to turn.

“I’m really looking forward to it. Every game is special and you take it game but game. But the Spain game will be great. The class of player they have on their team is incredible. I’ve played against most of them during the season and to have them together is incredible to see.

“But it’s another challenge for us. We almost beat them two years ago in Poland. So who says we can’t do the same thing this year?”

Main pic: Map Photos

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