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April 08, 2014 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-04-08

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8 - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Michigan's Mr. Dependable: Matt Freeman

How the walk-on
turned captain
found his role
By CAROLYN KODIS
Daily Sports Writer
Michigan men's gymnastics
coach Kurt Golder was running
out of time.
Just an hour before his team's
flight left for the 2011 Big Ten
Championship, Golder was
thrown a curveball: one of his
gymnasts was sick and unable
to compete, leaving him short
a man for the meet. He went
through the entire roster before
his eyes finally landed on one
name, and a walk-on at that:
Matt Freeman.
Four years ago, asa freshman,
Freeman had only competed in
two meets during the regular
season and his scores weren't
anything special. On this
weekend, though, Golder
couldn't accept any non-special
scores - especially in a season
where Big Ten competition was
at an all-time high. One slip-up
could be the difference between
first place and second. Golder
needed someone who could
deliver a strong performance.
With a potential Big Ten

Championship on the line, the
decision was made.
Freeman had an hour to pack
his things. His team needed
him.
He was having a bizarre
day. Just hours earlier, he
was expecting to watch his
team compete at the Big Ten
Championship from his couch.
Now, he was on the roster
presumably as a back-up. It was
on the bus ride to the meet that
he learned the truth: he wasn't
going as a back-up, but instead
would be competing.
"It got a lot scarier," Freeman
said with a laugh.
Freeman's entire season
played out in his mind. He had
only competed twice, and his
most recent rings performance
at Arizona State ended poorly.
What was coach thinking,
giving him of all people, a
chance to compete at the Big
Ten Championship?
"It was kind of nerve-
wracking," Freeman said.
It wasn't just an ordinary
meet. Each movement was
scrutinized now more than
ever. Freeman earned a 14.55 on
rings, an impressive score and,
at the time, a career-best for
the freshman. Michigan would
finish second in the meet, and
Freeman would find his role.

One word comes to Golder's
mind when he describes the
current senior co-captain Matt
Freeman: dependable.
"He probably has one of the
higher hit-percentages of all the
guys on our team," Golder said.
In a sport of constant scrutiny,
where one slip-up can result
in a major point deduction,
dependability is everything. A
high hit-percentage is a sign
not of consistent excellence but
rather of talent.
Now, Freeman regularly
competes in two of the most
difficult events in men's
gymnastics - pommel horse
and still rings - where a strong
performance can result in major
points.
During Freeman's sophomore
year, he didn't suffer a single
major deduction in a pommel
horse routine all season. On
pommel horse, it's notuncommon
for even the best to slip off the
horse every once in a while. But
for Freeman, it's a rarity.
This season, Freeman has
competed in every meet on
both pommel horse and rings,
consistently scoring well. He
also competed on the high bar -
an event he seldom competes in.
In a critical situation yet again,
Freeman proved dependable
even in a different setting. He
scored acareer-high 14.25 against
Nebraska.
Dependability is a key
component of leadership and of
being a good teammate. And
Freeman isn't just reliable on the
mat, but also outside of the gym.
If someone needs a ride to Meijer,
he'll drive them. If they need to
be dropped off at the airport, he'll
take them. If they need a place to
stay on Thanksgiving, his house
becomes theirs.
"He's been = the most
dependable, most giving guy,"
Golder said. "Everybody knows
that Matt has their back."
When he first joined the
team, Freeman didn't know if
he belonged. It's hard to stand
out in an incoming class of 11
freshmen, especially when
you're a walk-on. Freeman
wasn't the best at any particular
event, so he decided that instead
of trying to stand out, he'd
try to fill in and help the team
wherever he could.
"I decided whatever event we

/

Senior Matt Freeman has come along way since entering Ann Arbor and has developed into a consistent force.

needed, I'd work on, and that
was (pommel) horse and rings,"
Freeman said.
He didn't make his
competitive debut until the end
of his freshman season against
Penn State, though. He got one
shot: the rings. His 13.90 score
wasn't stellar, but it was a start,
especially in an event that he
wasn't used to.
"He's extremely hard-
working, if not the most hard-
working person on our team,"
said Freeman's co-captain
Syque Caesar. "He came in his
freshman year a little bit out
of shape and then worked his
way through the entire season
and didn't compete a lot, but he
always kept himself ready."
But nothing could've
prepared him for his jump to the
lineup.
The story of walk-on-turned-
captain is not uncommon in
Michigan athletics. Remember
Jordan Kovacs, a safety on the
football team? In the case of
the gymnastics team, both of its
current captains are walk-ons.
Freeman isn't like most
captains, though. His lead-
by-example style trumps the
typical, verbal-leadership rout.
Freeman's work ethic helped
him earn his spot as a captain.
And now Freeman expects
his team to work just as hard.

Together, he and C
that the hard workt
to earn their spots
trickles down to the
team.
"Matt's just a no c
guy," Caesar said.
has to be very indep
on their own, but a
time, also be very
others and be ther
people. Matt's that k
He's a very
straight-up
kind of guy."
It's the
way Freeman
carries himself
both in and
out of the gym
that reminds
Golder of a
standard set
for Michigan's
student-
athletes a
long time ago
- a phrase
echoed throughout a
athletics.
"He'd fit in wel
Schembecherler's, '
The Team. The Tear
said.
It takes a lot to st
a team with two
It takes a lot for s
deliver consistent pe
that push the team a
competition. And it t
lead a team to a perfe
But Matt Freemat

aesar hope a wayt
they put in
as captains ***
rest of the

to do just that.

Inhis final meetofthe regular
rap kind of season, Freeman found himself
"Everyone back where he started: on the
endent and rings. He held a handstand,
t the same swung his body downward
helpful to before releasing his grip on the
e for other rings and doing a flip through
kind of guy. the air. He then found his feet
planted on the
floor.
For a
"He's been m'"A"
Crisler Arena
the most held its breath.
Freeman took
dependable, a mom1ent
Sbefore
tmost giving saluting the
judges. In the
background,
the crowd rose
to its feet. His
teammates
celebrated on
11 Michigan the sideline. The judge raised a
small green flag, signaling that
I with Bo Freeman has stuck his landing,
The Team. giving him an added .20 points
m,'" Golder to his routine. His score lit up
on the jumbotron: 15.15, a new
and out on career best and enough to win
Olympians. the individual event title.
omeone to Freeman's journey has been
rformances similar to his rings routine.
head of the There have been ups, downs and
akes a lot to a couple of swings, but he always
ect season. finds his feet firmly planted on
n has found the floor.

ALISuN FARRAND/Daily
Freeman has been just as dependable on the mat as he has been off of it.

No longer timid, Donnal storms into next season

By NEAL ROTHSCHILD year senior Jordan Morgan and
Daily SportsEditor redshirt junior Jon Horford
both fouled out. Six-foot-six
Of the Michigan men's sophomore Glenn Robinson III
basketball team's freshmen had to play the '5' in the final
last year, each saw important possessions, and yet, burning
minutes and had big moments. Donnal's redshirt never crossed
Two of this year's three Beilein's mind,
freshmen did too. That was the last game before
Except for Mark Donnal. sophomore Mitch McGary was
The 6-foot-9 freshman from ruled out with his back injury,
Monclova, Ohio was redshirted and so it would be just Morgan,
and rode the bench as his Horford and a dash of redshirt
teammates moved on the Elite sophomore Max Bielfeldt in the
Eight. frontcourt the rest of the season.
Even the walk-ons that Donnal said the possibility
entered blowouts late in the of a redshirt was never brought
game became morerecognizable up when Beilein recruited him,
than Donnal, the four-star yet, it still lingered in the back
recruit who flashed a dynamic of Donnal's mind. When Beilein
inside-outside game in high broached it to him early this
school. season, he marketed the plan
The as a chance to
240-pound bulk up (he
newcomer gained 10 to
is reticent "He's going to 15 pounds this
and soft- year), become
spoken, and make a really stronger and
if there were get to learn the
character big difference offense.
traits that It sounds
would keep for this team nice enough,
him from but that
blooming next year. also meant
into a well- spending
adjusted, the season
productive watching from
freshman, those were a few of the bench, down on the opposite
them. end from Beilein, where the
"Coming in, I was a little guys who wouldn't be of service
timid," Donnal said. on a given evening were placed.
The lack of assertiveness and It was something Donnal never
the slow learning curve were had to do. It was tough for him,
enough for Michigan coach John but he knew there was nothing
Beilein to tag Donnal with the to do but soak in information.
"redshirt candidate" label early "Jordan, especially
in the season. In a December defensively,justgoingup against
victory over Stanford, fifth- him, I'mlearningfromwhathe's

doing when he's playing against
me," Donnal said.
Donnal was on the stout team
this season, and by seeing the
angles and nuances Morgan and
Horford played with in practice,
he was able to absorb the new
concepts.
"He's still learning the ins
and outs of the game," Morgan
said. "I don't even remember
what I knew in high school, but
he's learning."
Donnal's not sure when
exactly it was, just that it
came around the middle of the
regular season, but he turned
a corner. He'd found success
against Morgan and Horford
enough in practice that he knew
he belonged.
"I started to pick up
everything, and my game
started to come back to me, and
I'm getting in the flow of the
college game," Donnal said.
If it wasn't for the redshirt,
Morgan and Horford might
have had to worry about their
job security.
"He's becoming a force,"
Morgan said. "He's hard to
guard down there in the post,
and he's definitely come a long
way.
"Over the past couple months,
he's just become really good.
Really dominates, shoots the
ball well."
The tentativeness that
plagued Donnal through the
season's first couple months
seemed to disappear.
"Now that I have my
confidence back, I know that
I can play with these guys,"
Donnal said.
The hallmark '5' of the John

Freshman center Mark Donnal has used this season to mature into a force under the hoop and beyond the arc.

Beilein offense is a guy that can
hang with the bestbig men under
the rim, but alsotake his defender
outside to shoot the 3-pointer.
West Virginia sensation Kevin
Pittsnogle was the paradigm for
the type of player Beilein wanted
at that position.
But since he came to
Michigan, Beilein's '5' has
looked less like Pittsnogle and
more like, well, Morgan. The
outside shot has never been a
threat from Beilein's center in
his Michigan days.
With Donnal, though, that

might change.
"He's told me that he's excited
to have a big man that can shoot
threes," Donnal said.
In a 50-minute open practice
at Lucas Oil Stadium a day
before Michigan's Sweet 16
bout against Tennessee, Donnal
showed fans for the first time -
outside of pregame warmups -
what he could do.
He had the most fluid jump
shot of Michigan's big men, he
finished around the rim with
both hands and he had perhaps
the most polished post game

behind Mitch McGary.
Asked if he's thought about
what the team might look like
if Donnal was on the court late
this year, Morgan sidestepped
the question, but made a point
with authority.
"I think about next year," he
said. "I think he's gonna make
a really big difference for this
team next year."
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