Richard Pitino was so impressed with Sam Freeman last summer that he offered the Texas big man a scholarship after watching him block and dunk all over opponents during the Gophers’ team camp.

Pitino and the Gophers were one of the first high majors to show serious interest.

San Antonio Express-News photo

San Antonio Express-News photo

Now the 6-foot-10 senior at Northwest High in Justin, Texas is considering Minnesota among his college destinations with an announcement scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday at his school.

Freeman was down to the Gophers and Virginia Tech, but Buzz Williams left the Hokies for Texas A&M on Wednesday. I was told that Freeman was aware of Williams’ departure, so we’ll see if he looks at the Aggies as an option as well. Pitino has four scholarships left for the 2019 recruiting class. Wasatch Academy (Utah) four-star guard Tre’ Williams is the U’s only signed recruit so far.

Last weekend, Freeman concluded his official visit to Minnesota’s campus, saying: “It was well put together. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Freeman’s father, Sam Sr., also thought Pitino and the Gophers had an impressive pitch to his son.

“The opportunity to earn playing time,” Freeman’s dad said was a big selling point. “The staff did a great job of recruiting him. The people in the community seem to support the program. Very nice city. The facilities were nice.”

The Gophers graduate two in the frontcourt with All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy and 7-foot center Matz Stockman. The only returning true center is 6-10 Daniel Oturu, who was one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten. But who will compete with Oturu next season? And what type of big man would Pitino be getting if Freeman commits on Thursday to the U?

“He’s a rebounder and a defender,” Freeman’s mentor and Creating Young Minds co-founder Mathis Crowder said this week. “You had (Jordan) Murphy doing a lot of the rebounding this year. He did a great job, but he was undersized. This young man is only 17 years old, and he’s 6-10 and 230. He’s basically a player they don’t make too much anymore. A rebounder, defender, hustle guy who will do all the dirty work. He’s basically what Michigan State has. Minnesota would get that. He’s that kind of kid. He’s a loyal kid, hardworking kid and has no excuses. He just does it.”

Freeman was 6-8 and barely over 200 pounds going into his junior year in high school. He played for several AAU programs in Texas, but he had no Division I offers. He started working harder in the weight room and put on more than 20 pounds since last spring. He also grew a couple inches.

Even by the time he got to Pitino’s team camp with the Creating Young Minds team in late June, Freeman was a much stronger and physically imposing player in the paint. His confidence was soaring as well. Not only did the Gophers offer, but Freeman (also played AAU for 3-D Team Bizness in Texas) also eventually picked up interest from Virginia Tech and TCU last summer. He's listed as a three-star recruit by, but hasn't rated him. 

“The shoe company AAU teams didn’t want him until the summer,” Crowder said. “Sam would rather develop than run to a circuit team and just play in a lot of basketball (tournaments). He wanted to develop not just as a player, but as a person. I had him working out with a lot of my guys who are turning professional. Sam was loyal. Sam worked hard. He has done everything he was supposed to do. This kid is about to go to another level.”

One of the coaches who followed Freeman earlier was Gophers assistant Kyle Lindsted, who had a previously relationship with Crowder when working at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas several years ago.

“Coach Kyle saw the talent and saw the potential,” Crowder said. “And Sam’s still growing and maturing. They say he might end up 7-foot. His whole family is tall.”

As a senior this year at Northwest, Freeman averaged 13.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for a 30-8 5A district championship team. He was picked to All-Distrcit and all-region teams. He had 28 rebounds in one game, while also posting a 22-point, 20-reboud, 10-block performance vs. Plano West High School.

The Gophers camp last year really was just a glimpse of what type of inside force Freeman could be in the future.

“He did very well rebounding and scoring,” Crowder said. “He had blocks, dunks and mid-range jump shots. He’s still working on his game and still has a lot of work to do, but I had an NBA scout tell me the other day he has a chance to be a pro.”