by Ryan Schulz
Note: This article appears in the December issue of Commodore Nation.
It’s been six seasons since former Commodore Matt Freije put Vanderbilt’s team on his back and helped lead the Commodores to the Sweet 16 in 2004. Since Freije finished his Vanderbilt career as the program’s all-time leading scorer, basketball has taken him many places across the globe.
In January, Freije will embark on his sixth professional season when he begins play with a team in Lebanon. Since being drafted 53rd overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat, Freije has spent time in Europe, Asia, Puerto Rico and even played 42 games in the NBA with New Orleans and Atlanta.
“It is good to be able to see the world and see how different people live,” said Freije who spends his offseasons in Nashville. “I’m not going to play until I can’t play, I’m just going to play until I feel like I’ve played long enough.”
Freije’s last stint in the NBA came during the 2006-07 season, but he narrowly missed earning a roster spot out of training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008. Freije’s narrow miss from making the team’s roster on opening day was similar to that of former Commodore Derrick Byars this year. Byars was cut by the Chicago Bulls a little more than 24 hours before the team’s opening game.
“Honestly, it is really, really tough,” Freije said. “It is hard to be told that they don’t need you. It’s hard, and I feel bad for Derrick. It’s especially tough in his situation because every night you go out, you’ve got to do well because you are being watched a whole lot more than the other guys. For guys that are going to be there and know they are going to be there, it’s not the end of the world. If you don’t know, it is always in the back of your head that if you don’t play well, maybe you will get cut tomorrow or the next day.”
Having coached Freije and Byars, it is always tough for Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings to see his players get cut, but he knows it is a business and the two have the work ethic it takes to succeed in professional basketball.
“It is their profession at this point, so the first time someone tells you ‘no’ on a sale, you can’t stop working,” Stallings said. “Hopefully another team will pick him up and Derrick will have a nice long NBA career. He is certainly talented enough.”
Now in his late 20s, Freije knows his window for making the NBA is getting smaller, and he’s come to grips with the fact that the NBA may not be in his future again.
“The NBA currently is not a goal,” Freije said. “I’m 28 now, so it has kind of passed me by. I’m just playing while I can.”