Centre Joel Freeland is confident as GB start Eurobasket

MEN'S EUROPEAN BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Venue:
Lithuania
Date:
31 August-18 September
Kick-off:
31 August, 19.00 BST GB v Lithuania
Coverage:
GB Games lives on bbc.co.uk/sport and BBC Red Button (not Freeview). Daily highlights on bbc.co.uk/sport. Updates on 5 Live.
Joel Freeland
Freeland, still only 24, was unstoppable against China

Centre Joel Freeland says Great Britain can cause a Eurobasket upset and reach the second stage of the tournament.

GB face holders Spain, hosts Lithuania and world silver medalists Turkey but Freeland, in his best summer with the squad, says GB can exceed expectations.

"Lithuania and Spain are difficult," he said. "Poland, Turkey and then Portugal - that's where we need to look if we're going to qualify."

The tournament is the second time in a row GB have made the European finals.

Their first match is against the hosts at 1900 BST on Wednesday 31 August.

GB must finish in the top three teams in Group A - nicknamed the Group Of Death by European journalists - to reach the second group stage in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

The impressive form of the 6ft 11in Freeland, who plays his club basketball for Spanish powerhouse Malaga, has helped GB fill in for the absence of last year's major influence Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who has been unable to take to the court after shoulder surgery.

Freeland, 24, has shown continued improvement over the past five years. He hit 12 points in a row in the fourth quarter to decide the Olympic test event match-up with China and was equally difficult to stop against Australia in the same tournament.

GB coach Chris Finch has pointed to the narrow defeats by Australia, Serbia and Croatia in London as a sign they are capable of matching up with any team and Freeland agrees.

"We went down to the wire with some world class teams after we've only been together for three and a half weeks. I think we're going to be okay - especially with Luol [Deng] back," he said.

Chicago Bulls forward Deng helped the team to victory against China after arriving late in London, but could do little as GB fell to a disappointing 74-51 defeat away to Latvia at the weekend.

Paul Mokeski, the assistant coach brought in specifically to work with GB's big men, is impressed with Freeland.

"I'd heard about Joel for the last couple of years being with GB and I was very excited," said Mokeski. "He's a student of the game, very smart player, really tough and he's fearless when he goes to the basket.

"There's no telling where he'll go in his career. There's no doubt in my mind that he's an NBA-level player right now and he's only going to get better. A lot of times with the fast progress he's made, patience is better."

Freeland, drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 2006, is in no hurry to join them and become an NBA player.

"I'm really happy where I am - next year I'll have the opportunity to weigh up my options," he said.

Deng's seven points against Latvia was his lowest score for GB but Freeland believes the Chicago star will soon shake off any rustiness caused by three months' inactivity since the end of the NBA season.

"It doesn't matter if he hasn't touched a basketball for a year," said Freeland. "He can come in, help the young kids out, he's a team player who shares the ball and gets everybody involved - I definitely think we'll be fine come Lithuania."

Great Britain squad for Eurobasket: Ogo Adegboye (St Bonaventure Univ, US), Robert Archibald (Malaga, Spain), Eric Boateng (Austin, US), Dan Clark (Estudiantes, Spain), Luol Deng (Chicago Bulls, US), Joel Freeland (Malaga, Spain), Kyle Johnson (Long Island Univ, US), Andrew Lawrence (Charleston College, US), Mike Lenzly, (Nymburk, Czech Rep), Nate Reinking (Mersey Tigers, England), Andrew Sullivan (Mersey Tigers, England - captain), Devon van Oostrum (Caja Laboral, Spain).