Britain's latest basketball star should make his NBA debut for Portland Trailblazers against the world-famous LA Lakers tonight. Joel Freeland has come a long way from the quiet town of Farnham in Surrey, where he grew up and worked in Sainsbury's as a teenager.
"I just worked in a supermarket as anyone does as a kid," Freeland said yesterday. "My dad used to take my everywhere. I was living in Farnham but would travel two or three times a week to Southampton, he was taking me there, taking time out of his schedule."
"I was 16 when I left. It was part of my life that I cherish. But to play here is amazing, it is something that I've been fighting for my whole career. I was fortunate enough to be drafted in 2006, now I'm going to take full advantage."
Freeland, like most English teenagers, grew up playing football. But after a bad injury, he did not want to risk another, so changed to basketball. "I used to play football growing up like everyone does in England," he said. "But I had an injury on my left leg, I broke it, it was quite a bad injury and a bad time in my life. I spent two weeks in hospital.
"I was 14, those kids were growing a lot. I was watching football, kids were flying into tackles, I didn't want to go through that again. I decided to change sport, being as tall as I was, basketball was an obvious choice. I fell in love with it from the get-go."
Freeland has been playing in Spain for the last six years and is now delighted to be playing in the US. "It wouldn't really matter who we opened up against," he said ahead of the season opener. "To play against the Lakers is incredible. To play against Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, just to be on the same court as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. It is something I have been dreaming of for a long time."
Watch Joel Freeland's NBA debut via NBA League Pass. Visit www.nba.com/leaguepass