US player tells about basketball and his life in Belarusian capital
From here on we are starting the project that will tell you about the life of sportsmen from abroad in Belarus. Our first guest is BC Tsmoki Minsk player Rashaun Freeman.
Rahsaun Demier Freeman is an American basketball player who is currently playing for BC Tsmoki Minsk. He was born December 15, 1984. He started his basketball career at the University of Massachusetts where he played for UMass. Rashaun finished 4th in career points for UMass with 1,744 and third in career rebounds with 998. He was on the Atlantic 10 First Team for three years in a row. In 2007 he was a prospect for the NBA Draft. He received a tryout for the Memphis Grizzlies. However, he has never played in NBA.
Rashaun Freeman started his professional career in France in 2007 where he played for Hermine de Nantes Atlantique in French Pro B. In 2008 Rashaun signed with French Pro A club Maritime Gravelines-Dunkerque where he spent one season. In 2009 he left France and moved to Germany where he signed contract with MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg that played in German Bundesliga. The season wasn’t really successful for German club. They occupied 11th place. Freeman then moved to Belgium, signed by VOO Verviers-Pepinster, and had a short stint in Puerto Rico, where he played for Gallitos de Isabela. A year after Rashaun moved to Israel and played one season for Habik’a. In 2012 he returned to France (JSF Nanterre) and next year tried his hand in Bosnia where he played for Siroki. Siroki also participated in Adriatic League. The 2013-14 season Rashaun spent one season again in Israel playing for Barak Netanya averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists in the first Israeli league. In 2014 he was signed by BC Tsmoki Minsk.
– Where originally are you from?
– I’m from upstate New York. Have you ever heard of Syracuse?
– It’s somewhere up north towards Canada I suppose. Somewhere near Albany.
– Yes, I live right near Albany, 15- 20 minutes from Albany.
– So you are supposed to get used to our frost and snow…
– No! (laughing) I was born and raised there but I’ve been overseas for so long. I was playing in Israel for two years. It rains for three weeks there and then the winter time is over. But when you’re playing at the high level like this there are certain things you have to do with.
– Who is your favorite basketball player? Magic Johnson? Shaquille?
– I don’t have a favorite basketball player. Probably you just pick different parts of several players. My favorite team is L.A. Lakers but they are struggling right now.
– What music do you like?
– I like R&B, hip hop, some rock&roll. Well, I appreciate all good music. Sometimes I listen to a song on the radio and I don’t understand the language but I like the melody, I like the way it sounds. If it is good music I like it. I can’t say that this or that is my favorite but if there’s a good song, a good message I like it.
– Rashaun, before signing the contract with BC Tsmoki Minsk you had played in different countries: Germany, Israel, Bosnia, China and others. Why have you decided to play for Tsmoki?
– The deciding factor was the competition level. I’m towards the end of my career and when I’m done I want to be able to look back and see that I have played at the highest level. I could have stayed somewhere where everything was nice and comfortable. Not easy but comfortable. But I’d like to be somebody who has played at the highest level. That’s why I decided to come here.
– You’ve participated in NBA training camp. What does it mean for a basketball player from the United States to become a member of an NBA team at least for several weeks?
– It’s just a learning experience. You find out what’s meant for you and what’s not. Probably the NBA wasn’t meant for me. And overseas I was able to develop and work on certain things that I didn’t have in college. The NBA is the highest level. So when you are playing and practicing and you are being viewed by NBA scouts it shows where you are, it shows things you need to work on.
– Could you compare the NBA and the VTB United League?
– I have never played in the NBA but I can say that NBA games are a lot faster. The VTB and Euroleague are about team sport. Here players are looking for the best shot possible.
– People say that entertainment is of the highest priority in the NBA. In European basketball tactics takes the first place. Is it really so?
– Absolutely. It is more detailed in anything. You really have to focus on tactics. Probably that’s why overseas game is not meant for everybody.
– What kind of sports is the most popular in the United States? Is it NBA, NHL, baseball?..
– It depends on your taste. For me it is definitely basketball around the playoff time. And whenever I come back home from overseas it’s prime time for NBA. I don’t say that regular games don’t mean anything but in the playoffs the atmosphere is totally different. In Euroleague, VTB, Eurochallenge every game means so much. You may win several games you you’ll have good chances in the league table. Every game is of high importance.
– What difficulties have you faced playing in the VTB League?
– For me the most difficult thing is guarding bigger players. In other leagues I played against guys who were a little bit stronger but here there are players who are bigger than me practically in every team. So that was a challenge for me because I wasn’t used to that. Now I’m developing in that and I understand how I should guard so I can have an advantage as well.
– And what about the difficulties in your everyday life? Are there any? Is the language issue really important?
– The language is pretty tough. Our new coach doesn’t understand English so well. Sometimes when I talk to him he doesn’t understand me and we need an assistant coach to help us. Or vice versa. As for the everyday life I’d like to say that in the beginning of the season we had both Eurochallenge and VTB and we were constantly travelling. And when we had one day off I was sleeping, I was doing nothing. Now the Eurochallenge is over but still the coach pushes us to practice hard. So if I have a couple of days off like we had three days off for Christmas I would probably try to rest my legs preparing for the next half of the season. For me our practices are way harder than any game. Our coach makes it that difficult. So the game is not a day off but it is like you are going to make somebody pay for everything we do. It’s hard but it’s going to pay off in the end.
– Is it easy to have a conversation with your teammates?
– Yes, they understand me. Every year there were other Americans so they got used to joking and laughing with different Americans every year. So I feel quite comfortable.
– I see. Let’s recur to basketball. What can you say about the level of the VTB League? Do you consider it as a challenge in your career?
– Absolutely. It means much to me to play on such a level. I played in France, Germany, Bosnia, in Adriatic League and that’s considered a high level too. But it’s no comparison to VTB. VTB is a lot more difficult. Here if you have a good season and the team is doing well they usually give big contracts because you are being looked at on the highest level. Last year I had a good season in Israel. But when a team starts winning games and when I’m doing what I’m doing right now I’m going to get a better job next year because of the level that I’m playing against every night.
– The performance of the team in Eurochallenge unfortunately cannot be called successful. What are the reasons for that?
– There were different reasons and I’m really disappointed. We were struggling. But there were times when we needed another player. Then we had a player but he left. There were a lot of different things going on. If we had the coach that we have now the atmosphere and the organization would have been better. He makes us believe that we can play against anybody. And that’s why we are playing a lot of close games now. That’s something we didn’t have in the beginning of the season. If we had that we wouldn’t have been talking about that right now. I’m not a young player so probably I’ll never have a chance of playing in Eurochallenge again. I’m looking back and understand that we didn’t take advantage of the way we should have taken. But the season is long and we still have a chance to improve the situation, win some games and finish the season strong.
– Well, how do you find Minsk? What can you say about the city, about people?
– People are very serious here. They are reserved. I don’t judge people and I can’t say that people are mean here. I think that’s just the way of life here. I may think that he or she is so serious but if I for instance talk to him I will understand that he is just normal. When you are walking in the streets and mix you don’t have time to meet people. You have to go for work and have to go to different things. I don’t have kids but if I was married and had kids Minsk would definitely be a nice place for them. There are a lot of places where you can have a dinner for instance, there’s a night life. It’s big. The only thing is that it is really cold here. You really don’t want to be walking around because of that. I’ve been to France, to Israel and other countries but cities were not so developed as Minsk is. There are arenas, malls, restaurants and so on and so forth. It’s more of like a New York feeling rather than a small town in France. The only thing about it is that it gets really cold here. If Minsk was a warmer place probably people would be more smiling. Anyway, I feel quite comfortable here. I’ve been to so many places and I learned to adjust. There are some difficulties because I don’t drive here and I have to wait for the bus when it is really cold. But when you are a veteran you’ve probably been in some bad places as well as in some good places. So Minsk is pretty good. I’ve just adjusted to the things I like and to the things I don’t like.
– What places do you like in Minsk?
– I like my home (laughing). I practice at a high level and I really take advantage of the rest.
– But still are there any places you like to have dinner at for instance? Or do you prefer cooking at home?
– A little bit of both. I can cook at home and I can go out to eat. But I don’t do it all the time. In Minsk there are a lot of options for that. I live across the street from McDonald’s and even though I don’t like McDonald’s that much sometimes I wanna be lazy and just go and get a Big Mac.
– Did you meet your fellow Americans here in Minsk?
– I didn’t know two Americans that were here before. I talked to one rookie before he came but I didn’t know the second American. But I know Stanley Burrell because we played against each other in college. He played for Xavier, I played for UMass so we were in the same conference. Then we played against each other when we were in Belgium.
– Could you please say a couple of words to the fans of Tsmoki Minsk and to all the basketball fans here in Belarus? What could you wish them in 2015?
– If I had to bet my life savings I would bet that we would finish the season stronger that we started. We have some tough games coming up but we have a lot of home games when we are confident that we can win. As a basketball team we really care about our fans because we want them to support us. The team know that if you compare things that used to be in the beginning of the season and that you can observe now it’s like night and day. Maybe we were struggling because we didn’t believe, maybe because there were many things going on that we couldn’t control. But now we feel that the atmosphere and confidence is there. Whenever we step on court we feel that we have a chance to win. When you play like that fans understand that. Even if you lose a lot of close games and if a fan comes and sees that Tsmoki Minsk were competitive he will come to the next game. But if you’re not being competitive there’s no reason for fans to come. And we understand that. But we also have to be a little bit lucky too because we’ve been in seven games when we lost one or three or four points. Even though we know we are better than we were you still have to be a little bit more lucky too. To our advantage we have eleven home games and we have five or six home games in a row. So we have to take full advantage of that. There are also teams we have to look at and think like they really gave it to us the last time so we owe them something. That’s what my mind says and I’m pretty sure that that’s how everybody else feels as well. The fans definitely have something to look forward to but it’s all about us doing what we have to do.