FREELAND SET FOR GB RETURN

joel_freeland_gb_gregJoel Freeland has confirmed he will return to the Great Britain team from next summer after skipping EuroBasket 2013 to focus on furthering his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Surrey-born centre has revealed he spoke at length with GB coach Joe Prunty on Monday ahead of the Blazers meeting with the Brooklyn Nets.

Their encounter came amid a promising start to his second campaign which has seen him claim a regular rotation spot in Portland, averaging 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds and earning rave reviews from coaches and team-mates.

And with his credentials enhanced, he is set to join the fight to qualify for the 2015 European finals through next year’s qualifiers in what would be a huge boost to GB’s hopes.

“I had a long conversation with (Joe),” he told MVP. “He’s a great guy, very down to earth. We had a good conversation. I said how well they did during EuroBasket. It was great to get two victories. We had a good conversation. He was just telling me: ‘keep doing what I’m doing, how everyone’s noticing the hard work you’re putting in, your energy, so just keep doing what you’re doing.’

“And I’m going to be contact with him during the season as well, with contact going back and forth.”

Sitting out this past summer was “purely my decision”, he said. “Portland had no influence.” Freeland, who has accumulated 46 caps from his 2006 debut up to the 2012 Olympic Games, will likely join Luol Deng for the qualification round in August with British Basketball sources signalling the Chicago Bulls star is also to return.

“I love being with the national team,” Freeland said. “It’s great seeing old friends who you’ve played with. I’m really close to Dan Clark, Andrew Sullivan, Kieron (Achara), all those guys. It was tough not being there this summer. But I’m definitely excited about getting back involved.”

That contribution, he hinted, could involve following the lead of Deng in setting up his own youth camp in what would tie in with British Basketball’s development plans.

Accepting a role, admits the one-time Solent Stars junior, can be part of his giving back to basketball in the UK.

“Being one of the two (Brits) in the NBA, there’s always going to be a responsibility to try and promote it,” he said. “During the season, it’s a tough thing to do. You’re so focused. You’re here there and everywhere. You’re travelling. We’re on a six-day road trip. So it’s tough to think about anything else at the moment.

“But during the summer, you want to get involved in trying to promote the game as much as possible. People have been trying to do it over the years. I believe it has taken steps forward. But it could be a lot further than it is. That’s something I’m very interested in getting involved in, especially this summer coming.”

Before then, there is a small matter of helping Portland to continue their surprise start which sees them top the Northwest Division following a 9-2 opening to the new campaign.

The Briton’s own enhanced contribution is a product of hours spent in the gym in the offseason with coaches and trainers, learning how to be more effective in the interior, especially on the boards.

The results, he hopes, are payback for that labour.

“Without question, getting the offensive rebounds is down to me being more active on the offensive end and the defensive end,” he affirmed. “I’m trying to be a lot more energetic and bring a lot more energy to my team. It’s something I’ve worked on. It’s a tough thing to work on by yourself over the summer. You just have to crash the boards as often possible.

“You’re not going to get every one. But if you get some, it’s going to help your team out. It’s something that I wanted to bring to the team. I wanted to build my identity around that.”

– Joel Freeland and the Portland Trail Blazers take on Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls on Friday night/Saturday morning at 3am. Watch the game live or on-demand via NBA LEAGUE PASS at www.nba.tv

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