Joel Freeland has seen his team disappoint, his coach axed and his responsibilities increased this season. But the Great Britain international says it has all contributed to his basketballing education.

Still aged only 24, Freeland has been forced to mature in the public eye since he was surprisingly drafted by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers four years ago. He was a virtual unknown then, a product of the Gran Canaria academy who had yet to make his international debut.

He has come a long way since. And although Unicaja Malaga have under-performed in the ACB this season – leading to the abrupt sacking of head coach Aito Garcia – their young star has blossomed.

In the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Freeland currently ranks fifth in the player performance index rating despite playing fewer minutes than those above him. He is second on field goals made (66), ranks sixth in shooting percentage (66%), eighth in rebounds, ands 12th in overall points.

In what is good news for GB coach Chris Finch as he awaits confirmation that Surrey-born Freeland will be available for this summer’s Eurobasket finals, the young star has become Malaga’s Mr. Consistent.

Freeland has made himself at home in Malaga

“As a player, you obviously want to get better all the time,” he told

“One thing that helps me is the will to do that. You grow every year you play anyway, with improvement from one year to the next. But for me, the difference this year has been experience, knowing more about the game and especially about the Euroleague.

“Last year was my first in the competition, and although I always had confidence, there were still things – and still are – that I need to correct to make myself a complete player.

“I am happy with the statistics that I have in the Euroleague, for being just 24 in my second season, and I hope to continue achieving more with my team.”

Under new coach Chus Mateo, Malaga is attempting to re-start their domestic challenge while maintaining their push for European success.

The Andalucians travel to Lithuanian giants Lietuvos Rytas on Thursday night, looking for a victory that would keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.

Third in Group E on a 1-2 record, and trailing Panathinaikos and Spanish rivals Caja Laboral, defeat would all but end their hopes.

However the form of Freeland, who cannot exit for the NBA until 2012 at the earliest, gives Malaga some optimism. And he believes that he has risen to the challenge of elevating his level in his second Euroleague campaign after learning valuable lessons during his first.

“It was just a completely different competition for me last year, and a completely different level of play in comparison to what I knew before playing with Gran Canaria in the Spanish League and the Eurocup,” he said.

“I had to raise my game, mentally and physically, to compete better. I learned a lot in every game.

“I also learned a lot practicing with Robert Archibald, especially from his defensive work. And in the end, that one year was huge for me. I got experience and confidence to go forward and strive to be the best.”

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