The NBA has never been Toliver Freeman's main dream.
Yes, he was an all-state high school basketball selection three years running and scored more than 1,500 points, but the NBA hasn't been on his mind.
His dream is to go to medical school.
“The NBA was never something I wanted to do,” Freeman said in an interview with The Empire. “I’ll go to the NBA if I do well enough in college to lead to that, but my main goal is to get a great education and go to medical school. I’m a biology major, so that will set me up to do well in medical school.”
After having someone in the profession visit his high school, Catholic High School, Freeman decided he wanted to study to be an Ophthalmologist, or an eye doctor.
Vision, he says, is “the window to life.”
But unlike school, basketball didn’t always come easy.
Like anyone else, Freeman would come down on Christmas giddy. Looking through his gifts, he always knew he could expect one specific, valuable present: Better Basketball DVDs.
The basketball tutorial videos are normally for people who don’t know how to play basketball. Not Division 1 college athletes.
“I pretty much taught myself,” the Saint Joseph’s walk-on remembered. “I never had a trainer. I would go on YouTube and search: ‘How to shoot?’ ‘How to set your feet?’ ‘How to dribble?’ stuff like that...My parents weren’t sports people. My mom is a practicing lawyer and my dad is an [Emergency Room] doctor. So, education is the main thing that they’re worried about with me.”
Freeman had to learn elsewhere. This came from playing with his brothers in their backyard.
“We would play this game where we had to finish through contact,” Freeman said. “A person would go to the rim and the other person would foul him. Whoever scored the most baskets through the contact would win...I got a lot of my toughness from that, playing some of those intense games in the backyard with my brothers.”
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Freeman was lucky to have a strong support system. The city is one of the most dangerous in the country. With a murder rate of .26 per 1,000 residents and a given crime index of 4 out of 100 (100 being the safest) by NeighborhoodScout, Baton Rouge is notorious for its violence.
On the other hand, Freeman’s structure at home has kept him on track by stamping education as a priority. That’s why he enrolled in Catholic High School, a blue ribbon, all boys school. Catholic offered many opportunities that also stretched beyond the classroom and onto the basketball court.
“It’s a 5A school, so it is the biggest a school can get in Louisiana,” Freeman says. “If you do well at a 5A stage, as opposed to a 1A or 2A stage, it carries more weight because you’re playing against bigger, better teams.”
Although he learned much of his skills by himself, it was in high school that Freeman really started to expand his game and win the backyard battles with his brothers. He cites his high school coach, Mark Cascio, as the person who helped him specifically hone his basketball IQ.
After a strong freshman year, he won the AAU championship with his team, Red Storm, in the summer of 10th grade. This was when he started to blossom as one of Louisiana's best young talents, earning all-state and all-district honors for the next three straight high school seasons.
As a legit scorer who could put the ball in the basketball “inside and out,” Freeman averaged 17.8 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 47% from the field and tallying 31 total steals his senior season, according to Catholic’s website.
His successes earned him interest from small Division 1 schools in Louisiana, but Freeman wanted to leave the state and see somewhere new.
He found himself searching for schools where he could combine great academics, Division 1 basketball, and venture outside of Louisiana. His dream school growing up was UCLA because of his love of Russell Westbrook, but he noticed it was unrealistic. He tried Stanford, but it fell through. He heard from Ivy League schools, but had trouble maintaining consistent contact.
During the long process, however, he was able to get in touch with Saint Joseph’s assistant coach, Geoff Arnold. Freeman didn’t know much about Saint Joseph’s but he did know that they were the school that always seemed to bust his bracket.
“One of my friend’s uncles knew coach Arnold,” Freeman remembered. “He told coach Arnold about me and coach Arnold contacted me...They brought me up during March. I liked it. Everyone was friendly. It just felt like a family community.”
From the start, the coaches at Saint Joseph’s did not sugar coat anything. They were straightforward -- Freeman would be a preferred walk-on. This was okay with him. He was just happy he had found a fit where he could get a great education to pursue his dreams of a medical degree and play collegiate basketball away from home.
His adjustment from high school stardom to a walk-on at Saint Joseph’s has not been too bad either. Had he thought he couldn’t handle the transition, he wouldn’t have willingly accepted the challenge.
As one of four current Saint Joseph’s walk-ons, he understands that his role is make the other players on the team better and additionally, mimic their upcoming opponents’ strategies in practice.
“I try my best to get the team prepared for whatever team we’re scouting that day,” Freeman added of his role. “Just have fun with it and keep competing, you never know what it will lead to...My job is to make other people on my team better by continually competing on the practice court.”
Fellow Saint Joseph’s teammate, senior Brendan Casper, who also walked onto the team, but has since earned a scholarship, expanded on the expectations for Freeman.
“As a walk-on you just come in and work hard everyday,” Casper commented. “You push the guys next to you to make the team better and that's all you can really do. And then if you work hard, good things are going to happen to you.”
Off the court, Freeman is surprised at the amount of spare time he has, even as a honors student at the university.
“I really didn’t expect to have as much time as I have now,” Freeman added. “Being in sports, you’re forced to be on a strict schedule so you cannot really procrastinate as much as people expect. You have to get your work done and get your studying done.”
Although he has more time than anticipated, the classes have been challenging, but this was by design.
“I’m taking 7 classes a semester [right now],” Freeman said of his course load, which includes courses like calculus, chemistry, biology, and more. “I did that by choice to make my junior and senior year easier when I’m starting to apply for medical schools.”
Head coach Phil Martelli has also noticed Freeman’s abilities off the court as a student.
“Toliver is going to be a great doctor,” Martelli said. “He’s a very confident guy, very personable. He wants to be at Saint Joseph’s...and I’m delighted he’s a part of the program. He’s not a good student -- he’s a great student.”
And while most other Division 1 freshman athletes are thinking about the next level of basketball, Freeman is preparing for medical school.
“It’s tough right now but I’m definitely enjoying it,” Freeman said of his biology major. “It will get me ready for the MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) and if I do well on the MCATs, I will be able to get into some of the medical schools I want to go to.”
Toliver Freeman already has his eyes set past college basketball, but in this case, they’re aimed specifically at medical school.
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