Owen Freeman has grown up in the Bradley-Bourbonnais boys basketball program, being told if he worked hard enough, one day he could become similar to program legends such as Chris Gandy.
Now, Freeman will be exactly that, after he announced on Twitter on Monday he had committed to play basketball at the University of Iowa. Freeman, a junior, will be the first area native to play men’s basketball in the Big Ten Conference since Gandy, a 1993 Bradley-Bourbonnais graduate, played at the University of Illinois from 1993-97.
“That’s amazing,” Freeman said of becoming the first local product to play men’s Big Ten hoops since Gandy. “He created a legacy at BBCHS, and to be mentioned next to his name is just crazy.”
Freeman, a 6-foot-10 junior, had offers from five other Big Ten schools — Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin — as well as Butler, Marquette, Wake Forest and Western Illinois. But the fit he felt at Iowa, both physically and spiritually, were what called Freeman a few hours west.
“I had a connection with the coaches, a connection with players that’s just where I wanted to be,” Freeman said. “I’m a man of faith, and I prayed on it, and it’s where I needed to be.”
The future veterinary medicine major has made a name on the court for his abilities to play both in the post and on the perimeter, growing as a defender and a ball-handler as he continues to develop into his lengthy frame. He averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game on his way to an All-Southwest Suburban Conference and Daily Journal All-Area season.
He was gaining attention from colleges all over, but it was the support system he has in place that kept Freeman sane as he began to pursue his college options.
“My mom and dad were there to cheer me on and trying to get [that] tweet out before I was,” Freeman said. “I had a conversation with [Bradley-Bourbonnais boys basketball coach Joe] Lightfoot, and he said if that’s what God wants me to be, that’s where I should be.
“And my girlfriend and friends have been very supportive.”
With his decision made just halfway through his prep career, Freeman said he made a somewhat early decision so he could move on and enjoy being a high-schooler.
“It’s like a weight lifted off my shoulders — I’m the type of kid where if a coach was at practice, I’d be worried the whole day, thinking I had to impress everybody,” Freeman said. “Since I have [Iowa coach Fran] McCaffery here on my side, that’s my guy now, and I don’t need anybody else.
“I feel more free, kind of, not being under stress and just taking it day by day with my friends and girlfriend, getting back in the gym and just enjoying being a high school kid.”
But with that in mind, Freeman also knows he’s starting to become someone younger basketball players in the community will grow to admire as he truly goes full circle from being inspired by players such as Gandy to being the next one like him.
“I’m trying to set an example for my teammates, not just as a good player but as a good person,” Freeman said. “They’ll post something on [social media], and I’ll tell them that’s not what we do here.
“But to just go out in the community, show my faith, hang out with the little kids, I love it.”