VALPARAISO —When Valparaiso freshman Javon Freeman-Liberty threw down a fast-break dunk with 3:06 remaining in Tuesday's opener against Concordia University of Chicago, the crowd’s ooh’s and ah’s were surprisingly loud considering the 46-point margin.
With two of his game-high 22 points, Freeman-Liberty woke up the Athletics-Recreation Center's patrons amid a wire-to-wire snoozer.
For large chunks of Tuesday’s game, Freeman-Liberty stood out not for freshman mistakes, but rather as one of the Crusaders’ top players. He scored seven of Valparaiso’s first 11 points and added four rebounds, four assists and three steals while committing just one turnover.
The 6-foot-3 guard faced some of the top competition in the country with Whitney Young in the Chicago Public League throughout high school, and his maturity showed.
“When we recruited Javon — I tell people this a lot — we knew we were getting someone that could defend. We knew we were getting someone who could slash,” Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich said. “One of the things that stood out to me was his ability to grasp where the basketball is supposed to go, and typically freshmen aren’t capable of doing that.”
Freeman-Liberty said he works hard on his outside jump shot and adding weight, and some of that focus showed against Concordia. Although Freeman-Liberty shot just under 24 percent from three during his senior year of high school, he knocked down both of his attempts from beyond the arc on Tuesday.
At 175 pounds, Freeman-Liberty still has room to fill out his frame in preparation for physical Missouri Valley Conference opponents. If he becomes a legitimate threat from deep that opponents have to guard, however, he will provide a jolt to a Valparaiso starting backcourt that also includes career sub-30 percent three-point shooter Deion Lavender. With more shooting on the court, the Crusaders could make a huge improvement over last season’s ninth-place offense in the MVC.
“I improved my jump shot over the summer a lot. I’m in the gym putting up shots every day after practice, every morning,” Freeman-Liberty said. “The only thing I really have to work on is getting stronger. A lot of these guys are way bigger than me.”
Lottich said the 31-game, regular-season schedule over about four months will pose challenges for Freeman-Liberty, particularly since Illinois high schools typically don’t start practice until early November. If Freeman-Liberty doesn't wear down, he could put himself in the conversation for the MVC’s Freshman of the Year award — and he should be a threat for more honors throughout his career.
“We look at freshmen (who) come in, and not only do they get here in the summertime and work out this four hours per week and have weights and things like that, they’re also here practicing and having all these practices beforehand,” Lottich said. “It is a big adjustment, and he can say the strength (needs work) and all that, but it’s just the entirety of the season. ... What you see now is not hopefully what you’ll see in a couple of years.”