Trail Blazers vs Jazz Friday, 03/29/13 AT 07:00PM

Competitiveness Forges Friendship Between Freeland And Leonard

03/28/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    In professional sports, competitiveness is not just a virtue one must have, but to be successful, it is a way of life. That is the life that has brought Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland to Portland. Before they arrived in Portland, competitiveness got them to where they are, like most athletes. But despite playing the same position and essentially competing for the same minutes, their competitiveness has fostered a friendship as well as improvements on the court.

    In the basketball world of today, it's incredibly rare for players to meet in the NBA and not have crossed paths at one point or another along the way. Whether it's in college, international competition or the amateur circuit, these players generally meet along the way. But as Joel Freeland played six years abroad and represented his country in the Olympics, he did not participate, as Meyers had, in offseason activities designed for rookies such as summer league or "rookie transition." Leonard admits he had only heard of him but didn't know who he was until they met.

    "I had really no idea who he was, I'd heard about him but, so he came over and we started talking and everything," Leonard recalls.

    Leonard and Freeland's paths did not cross until they met in Portland in September. With both new in town and new to the league, it didn't take long for them to start getting to know each other.

    "As the season started, we started working to together before games just because we're both big men, Kim (Hughes) works with us. You know, we just became better and better friends," Leonard continues.

    It's nearly impossible for one to see the two apart when the doors are open. Before games, each one is working the other in drills run by Hughes, often until their shirts are soaking. According to Freeland, their work almost never stops.

    "It's great," Freeland says of having a competitor like Leonard to work with. "Having someone else at my position you know, on the floor and being a rookie at the same time,  it's great. We push each other every day in practice. We come before practice, we workout before practice, working out after practice, before games. You've got someone to relate to and someone to kind of learn off me, I can learn off him. We both share similar qualities but both better at different things so it's good in that way."

    Leonard has been receiving more and more playing time while Freeland's minutes have been more scarce. Freeland has been active when called upon as of late. However, on a daily basis, each one is pushing the other one to be better even though roster realities seemingly pit them against each other. Their friendship conceals this reality as the two are locked in on a daily basis to push the other guy to be even better.

    "The main thing, he's played overseas for six years," Leonard says of Freeland. "I really haven't shown him that much. I just tell him, 'dunk the ball, dunk the ball, every time you get a chance try to dunk it!' 'Cause you know, today was, his best practice of the year. He was dunking everything, finishing everything around the rim. What he did for me was, 'Meyers, be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive. You're young, you're going to make mistakes but just continue to play through it."

    Despite the fact that Leonard is currently the one playing more minutes, it's clear that Leonard looks up to the older rookie with six years of professional basketball experience.

    "He's really kind of like a mentor for me even though he's a friend. He looks out for me."

    Freeland admits he won't get competitive with Leonard in the weight room, basically because it's unsafe to do so.

    "Not the weight room so much, just look at him, he's an animal. But on the court," Freeland continues, "more than anything, shooting games, one-on-ones, things like that."

    For these two, the competitiveness ends when they walk off the court. They might play a game of Call of Duty, Leonard's game of choice at which Joel says he is "terrible"  or Skate 3, Freeland's forte, which Meyers is "trying to get good at."

    As you can see, there's no real competition there. Just more common ground to discover. They'll take their girlfriends out for a dinner or perhaps just "go to a bar," as other 20-something co-workers would do, or just have a meal together on the road.

    As practice wrapped up on Tuesday, Freeland is quick to point out that Meyers is going home to play "more" Call of Duty. But that's also as they are making plans for their dinner later that night.

    Another meal, perhaps a round of video games as the night fades. But come morning, they will be back at it, "giving each other crap," working up a sweat in the weight room, or on the court. They will continue to, as Stotts has asked very body on his team since day one, compete, until they do it all over again.  


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