WASHINGTON – When Big East preseason player of the year Austin Freeman scored 31 points in one of the most exciting college basketball games this season — Georgetown's 111-102 overtime win over Missouri last month — the Hoyas senior guard wasn't asked a single question in the interview room afterward.
"I wasn't going to say much anyway," he said with a smile and a shrug after leaving the room.
When Freeman had a lethargic performance last week in a loss to St. John's — 2 for 10 shooting, season-low six points — coach John Thompson III was so concerned that he made sure Freeman, a diabetic, did a check of sugar levels. They turned out fine.
"He didn't look like himself," Thompson said.
Five days later, Freeman appeared again as an on-court bystander, going scoreless and taking just two shots in the first half against West Virginia before asserting himself in the second half. It wasn't enough as Georgetown lost for the third time in four conference games.
"It's just me," Freeman said. "I wasn't aggressive at all."
No wonder it's so hard to get a read on Georgetown right now — because it's not easy to get a feel for their best player. The Hoyas (12-4, 1-3) are off to their worst Big East start since Thompson became coach in 2004, and they've dropped to No. 22 in The Associated Press poll ahead of Wednesday's home game against No. 5 Pittsburgh.
When he's on, Freeman is seamless and smooth, hitting 3-pointers and efficiently driving to the paint with hardly an ounce of wasted energy. He's the polar opposite of his longtime friend and fellow senior captain Chris Wright, who is frenetic and loud. When Wright reaches 20 points in a game, everyone can remember almost every bucket. When Freeman reaches 20, it's more like "When did that happen?"
"He wears the emotions on his shoulder," said Freeman, who is averaging a team-high 17.9 points. "And me, I'm more of the calm. I try to lead more by example. It's more like me and Chris are fire and ice."
Freeman, of course, was thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight 10½ months ago, when he was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with diabetes late in the season. Teammates, family and the Georgetown community at large rallied around him. He scored 24 points in his next game, with a doctor and trainer keeping close watch of his levels. Freeman changed his diet and his Twitter name (SugarFree_15) and talks about it now as if it were a mere bump in the road.
"I accepted it, probably, two hours after they told me," Freeman said. "Because once they said it, what could I do about it? I took it, understood, tried to learn about it. I had a lot of people coming in and telling me what was going on. When I found out I was still going to be able to get on with my regular life, and still be able to play basketball, I was fine. My parents were more worried than I was."
So was Thompson.
"Was I surprised at how he reacted? No, not at all," Thompson said. "Was I terrified? Might be too strong of a word, but it might not be. Was I extremely scared, nervous? Absolutely. Not just from the standpoint of I had to educate myself on diabetes, which I knew very little about, to how it would relate to one of our players.
"I know that leading up to that, I thought he had a cold. And to learn that it was significantly more than that, and how I had reacted to him leading up to that was how a coach would when a player says 'I have a cold.' And then to realize, 'Oh, wow. The kid didn't have a cold.' So that scared me, to be honest."
Thompson said he is now proactive about making sure Freeman is checking the levels, but Freeman said last week his condition has had no effect on his play this season and that he's "got pretty much everything under control." He talked about the enormous amount of support he has received and spoke of how he was recently stopped at a shopping mall by a father with a diabetic son. Freeman gave the boy some words of encouragement before moving on.
Freeman will move on from Georgetown on May 21, the day he graduates with a degree in sociology. Before that, of course, he wants a Big East championship and a national title, natural goals for someone who grew up in Maryland some 20 miles from the Hilltop campus.
For that to happen, Freeman must resolve that dilemma that sometimes presents itself with top players under Thompson. The coach is all about discipline and structure, but the best players can't afford to get so caught up in executing the system that they become passive members of it.
It would happen with especially with Jeff Green — the best player Thompson has coached at Georgetown — and it even happened just two weeks ago with the energetic Wright. When Wright went scoreless in the first half against DePaul, Thompson said he gave the senior a halftime prodding along the lines of "OK, buddy, let's just be more aggressive."
After his lackluster first half against West Virginia, Freeman was asked how he could play so passively when the team relies on him for so much.
"It's something I can't do," he said, "because my team needs me to be aggressive and be able to get my shot and be able to get them easy shots, too."
It shows there's more work to do if the preseason player of the year is to live up to the hype.
"I have to keep working," Freeman said, "if I want to be the actual Big East player of the year."