Many of us first heard the name Joel Freeland when Portland drafted the then nineteen year-old with the #30 pick in the 2006 draft. He was one of those surprises you hear shooting up draft projections after impressing teams on the pre-draft workout circuit. More surprisingly, for all this raw talent that had teams drooling, Joel had started working on his game just three years prior to hearing his name called. He was 6'10 and athletic, but hadn't played much at a high level. His wiry frame also didn't seem like something you could see having much fun close to the hoop during an NBA game. The Blazers decided to let him mature in Europe, and Joel signed a contract with Gran Canaria of Spain's ACB League. There, it was believed he would get an opportunity to gain experience competing at a high level while polishing his skills and getting his body ready to compete in the NBA.
The problem was, Gran Canaria rarely played the man they already knew would be leaving them for the NBA, and showed little interest in helping with his development. Rather than dwell on this frustrating situation Joel went to work on his skills the best he could. And he lifted. And lifted. When 2007's summer-league rolled around it was time for Joel to rejoin the Blazers. That wiry young draft pick was nowhere to be seen, in his place was 250 lbs of grown man that definitely looked the part of an NBA player.
Joel saw sporadic time in Vegas, but certainly did enough to leave an impression. His two-handed throwdown off a lob in traffic and his blocking of a Leon Powe dunk come to mind. He proved to the coaching staff that he can play, and is now in a position requiring him to work as hard as ever on improving while patiently waiting for his opportunity. I emailed Joel a few questions and he was kind enough to reply, his words are in grey:
1) How much contact do you have with the Blazers right now? Do you communicate much this time of year or are you mostly left to do your own thing?
I don’t have much contact with the Blazers during the season, which is no problem as I understand they have a lot on their plate during the season. But as I travel to mainland Spain I occasionally meet up the European scout so that’s kinda cool!
2) Have you heard much from the team on an ideal timeframe for you to come over? If you came over now, how much do you think you could contribute to the team?I haven’t spoken to the team about this, but to be honest I’m not in any rush, it will happen when it happens and I've just got to make sure that I’m fully prepared for the responsibility that it involves, and also make sure that I am ready to compete, so all I’m focused on now is playing, working hard and getting better.
3) It seems like both you and the Blazers organization are frustrated at the limited minutes Gran Canaria has offered. What is your approach to still improving your game in such a situation?
I am frustrated as any basketball player would be but I feel as long as I stay confident and work everyday, whether it be during practice or by myself, I will benefit greatly from it.My opportunity to play will eventually come and I have to be prepared to show everybody that I am physically and mentally ready to compete at this level.
4) You've talked about the level to which you've added muscle to your frame, and a desire to gain more. After summer league, do you feel like your body is now where you'd like it to be?
With the extra weight that I have put on over the past year I feel great. I feel a lot stronger and a lot more stable in the low post, and I don’t feel like I've lost any quickness either, which is great. I’m at around 250lbs at the moment and I feel I could go up to like 255-260lbs and that would be perfect.
5) Anything else?
Thanks a lot for the questions and trying to stay in touch its greatly appreciated. I would just like to say thanks to the fans as well for their unbelievable support and I hope to see you all soon!