Finding someone who anticipated the turn of a new year more than Rocky Mount Prep’s Deshawn Freeman would be difficult.
2012 was a string of hardships for Freeman, who endured ups and downs that could have broken down the strongest of wills, much less a teenager who is a few months away from graduating high school.
Even through the death of a sibling, the rehabilitation of an injury, a coaching change and learning that he would have to miss part of his senior season, Freeman remains goal-oriented. He is willing and now able to display a basketball talent that makes him one of the better boys’ basketball college prospects in Eastern North Carolina.
“Some people who have been through hard things quit what they like to do,” Freeman said. “That made me stronger and a better man. I decided to stick with it.”
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward never has lacked talent. Two seasons ago he had a breakout season as a sophomore at Northern Nash, where alongside his brother Darius, Freeman began to catch the eye of the college scouts that to this day still are interested in his services.
When Freeman’s brother graduated, he also left Northern Nash and saw Rocky Mount Prep as a perfect place for basketball and academics.
He shined during his first semester with the Jaguars, who eventually advanced to the NCHSAA 1-A Eastern Regional Finals.
But they did so without their best overall player.
Freeman injured his right knee playing football prior to the 2011-12 season, but he suited up for the fall semester of basketball. It wasn’t until the pain became too great last January that he realized he couldn’t play anymore.
He suffered a torn meniscus. It was devastating to a player who wanted to help his team win a state championship, but it paled in comparison to what happened three months later.
One of Freeman’s four brothers, Gregory, was shot to death while sitting in a parked car last April in Rocky Mount.
A friend of Gregory Freeman’s also was killed in the shooting. The double-homicide is still unsolved.
Gregory, who was 22 years old, saw one of Freeman’s last games before his injury. It was a homecoming game that his younger brother was excited about.
“I love him,” Freeman said. “He always said, ‘You are going to make it.’”
Freeman needed time to grieve, and in the process, he missed more than his share of school days. It led to him being declared ineligible to play during the Jaguars’ 2012 fall semester.
In August, Jaguars coach Eddie Knudsen was dismissed from the school and later was replaced by Don Reams.
Freeman wasn’t sure about anything anymore. He flirted with the idea of transferring to Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem.
Reams knew of Freeman’s talent, and although he has been firm in laying out a plan to help the senior return to form on and off the court, the coach also sees a tried and tested young man.
“I think Deshawn is unique in that probably the average person doesn’t have a clue what he has been through and what a lot of people expect of him,” Reams said. “I don’t know how I would react if my brother was murdered. Being as talented as he is, people expect him to do everything. He is still human.”
If there was anything that went smooth in 2012, it was Freeman’s injury. He walked three days after surgery, and he only wears a brace to support the knee. There is no discomfort or lingering pain.
Freeman showcased his talents with his AAU squad, the Carolina Red Storm, during the summer and showed he is the eye-catching player he was before the injury.
Instead of four semesters of playing ball at Rocky Mount Prep, he has been limited to two, but now Freeman’s focus is on helping a supremely-talented Jaguars squad reach and win its first state championship.
It’s a squad that he has played with since many of the Jaguars were in middle school.
Now, the hope is that Freeman can be the difference in beating 1-A powerhouses such as Plymouth and Winston-Salem Prep, who played for the state championship last season.
After sitting out the fall semester, Freeman has played in seven games this season and is averaging 22.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and two blocks per game for the Jaguars (13-3).
“The number one thing is to get the ring and don’t look back and say, ‘We could have done this,’” Freeman said. “They know what I do, and I know what they’re good at. I think I fit in well.”
Mid-major Division I schools including High Point, Marshall, UNC-Wilmington and Appalachian State have shown interest in Freeman.
If Freeman can step onto one of their campuses in the fall, 2013 surely will rank as a year to remember.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com