Photo by Michael Buckelew
COVINGTON -- Gregory Freeman is bringing his aggressive style of defensive basketball to Eastside's boys program, where he hopes he'll have the same success he had at Class AA Lamar County.
"I'm definitely a defensive-oriented coach," said Freeman, who officially became the Eagles coach Tuesday. "You're definitely going to see at Eastside a bunch of guys challenging, contesting, rebounding, boxing out, taking charges, hands in the passing lane and running. We're definitely going to be a high-octane squad.
"I don't know what they did in the past, but that's who I am. The kids, from what I've seen by the roster, fit that mold. We're going to get out and run, as well as increase the skill level of the kids."
Freeman -- who succeeds Michael Gerald, who departed in early March after seven seasons at Eastside -- turned the Trojans' program around his first year, doubling their victories and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
The year before Freeman arrived, Lamar County had an 8-18 record; the Trojans finished 17-12 at the end of his first year. Last season, he took his team to a 27-4 record as they made it to the Elite Eight.
Rather than playing a first team with a few substitutions added, Freeman likes to have a 10- to 12-player squad with plenty of rotations. He feels that by having fresh people in and the game constantly, they will be able to be more aggressive and attack the ball.
"We're going to be a physical team," he said. "I don't like to talk about where they've been. I don't know where they've been. I just want to talk about what I project for me."
Considering that Lamar County had 44 wins in his two seasons there, compared to Eastside, which has record 41 wins in the past five seasons, Freeman's methodology is hard to argue against.
Besides building his players' endurance, Freeman also plans to develop their skills so all aspects of the game become second nature to them.
"What they have to understand is that it becomes second nature when you take what you do in practice and do in it in the game without thinking about it," he said. "That's the development part of it because the kids came out and worked hard and they believed. I feel that 99.9 percent of anything you do successfully, you have to have the mental capacity that you can do it. That's what I want to create. I want to create an atmosphere that when the kids come out of the locker room they know we're about to get it on."
While developing players on the court is important, Freeman also knows that it's even more important to develop his players academically. In his 19 years of coaching, Freeman has seen more than 80 players go to the collegiate level on basketball scholarships. Aside from his latest stint at Lamar County, Freeman was also the head coach at Lee County and at Jackson high schools.
"I believe that there's a direct correlation between classroom success and success on the court, field, track, (or) whatever it is that you're doing," he said. "When you handle that business it makes this business so much easier. You'll see some smart basketball players."
Athletics have always been important to the Freeman family. Freeman played point guard at Valdosta State from 1988-1991. His sister played college basketball, his mother played at Fort Valley, two cousins (including former Miami Dolphins defensive back Arturo Freeman) played at South Carolina and his niece (Kalia Johnson) just signed with Duke.
It is his love of sports that makes Freeman different from many other coaches in that he encourages his players to participate in other sports besides basketball.
"I like the fact that a lot of the guys play other sports and are physical in nature," he said. "As you advance in the playoffs you come up against athletes that play other sports -- they don't specialize. It's going to be an interesting first year. I think we're going to surprise some people, I really do."
Freeman found it difficult to leave Lamar County, but he said he made the move for the challenge of building a program and he wanted the opportunity to coach at a higher classification. Plus, Covington is closer to his home as his wife teaches in Fulton County.
Now that Freeman's appointment has been approved by the Newton County Board of Education, he is ready to meet with his players and begin to transform Eastside's program into his vision.
"I'm anxious to get the guys in. I want to believe that there are guys that haven't played or didn't play or played someplace else that might want to come back to Eastside because it's going to be exciting for us.
"I'm going to try to bring (boys basketball) up to the level where Coach (Rick) Hurst has the football program. Working with him and seeing what he has done not only at the school but in the community, is a good blueprint for me to come in.
"Even though I'm an experienced coach, you always want to use what worked and emulate it. I want everybody to come out and support this program I want to get the people in Covington and the people in the Eastside community excited about boys basketball."