By Jerry Del Priore
Joshua Freeman could’ve have attended any number of top New York City high school hoop programs after completing the eighth grade at East Side Community, a sixth to twelfth grade small school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
But Freeman was moved by the love and support he received from his middle school basketball coach Chris Osorio and ESC staff after he said his mother Nicole suddenly passed away from a brain disease in her mid-forties when he was 14.
Plus, Freeman wanted to make an immediate impact. Therefore, he felt ESC was his best bet.
“People can make it anywhere, as long as they put the hard work in,” Freeman, 17, said. “I didn’t want to just say I went to a big school, and not get to really develop being under somebody until junior or senior year.
“I had to trust the backup I had already here, people already pushing me. I already had people caring for what I was doing, people that didn’t want to see me on the streets. People that wanted to see me in the gym.”
So, Freeman stayed put at ESC, though it wasn’t easy at first. Since his father is a greyhound bus driver, requiring long periods of time away from home, Freeman moved in with his sister Khaliefa, who lives in East New York, Brooklyn.
Now, he had to travel a bit. In a new environment in the “Borough of Kings,” forcing to adjust on the fly, Freeman could’ve easily lost focus, and quit basketball and floundered in school.
However, it never happened. One of the reasons why it didn’t was his then-guidance counselor and now-coach Vernon Johnson, whom he had to lean on during his arduous tribulation
“When he was going through that tough time we just let him know we would help him anyway we can,” said Johnson, who is now an assistant principal at ESC. “I’ve known him since he was in the sixth grade. So, anyway I could help, I was always there to support him.”
Freeman knew in his heart that he needed to continue playing. The thought of life without hoops, especially at ESC, was too difficult to bare, on top of the devastating pain of losing his mother.
“I always knew basketball was something I really wanted to do,” the affable Freeman explained. “There were times I was sad and I really wanted her back, but I never thought about throwing basketball away because of all this. That would just make me sad because basketball is what I love to play. Losing both at the same time, I don’t even know what I’d do if I wasn’t playing basketball.”
To honor her memory, Freeman said he changed his number from five to two, because his mother was born on October 2nd.
In addition, as part of his pregame rituals, he jumps up and slaps the backboard because, “that would be like me high fiving her up there (in heaven). And then I touch my number. That is just me telling her this game is for you.”
Freeman said he believes his mother would’ve been proud of his accomplishments on the hardwood and in the classroom, where he’s a top student at ESC. The six-foot, 155-pound junior hopes to study business and hoop it up at Bryant University, a college in Smithfield, Rhode Island, which plays in the NCAA’s Division I Northeast Conference.
But Freeman, who applied for a summer internship at Morgan Stanley and is already taking college courses at Hunter College, said he’s open to entertaining any opportunity out there.
After leading the Tigers to a 13-1 record and capturing the PSAL’s Manhattan B South 1 division title, Johnson said his dynamic point guard has put the school on the city’s high school basketball radar, one blip at a time.
Freeman led the conference with 93 assists, third in points (227), points per game (17.76), and tied for seventh in rebounds (82).
The coaching staff feels extremely fortunate to have him on the team and at the school, including assistant Kerisa Jones.
“He’s definitely something special, on and off the court,” Jones, former ESC head coach, emphasized. “I am always blown away, watching him play, watching him in the classroom, hearing him speak. He always inspires you.”
Johnson concurs, adding that he’s on the cusp of Gotham hoops stardom.
“He is the best kept secret in NYC high school basketball,” he said. “You’re going to hear about Joshua Freeman all throughout the playoffs. He has already taken us to a place we haven’t been this year, as far as winning a division title. I feel like this year, he’s going to put us on an even higher level, and we’re going to make a lot of noise. And he’s going to be a reason why we make that noise.”
There’s no doubt that Nicole’s smiling down on her son.
13-seeded ESC will host No. 52 Cambria Heights Academy on Tuesday, February 28th at 5:00 p.m. in the first round of the Class “B” post-season.