By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa freshman forward Owen Freeman will never forget the time when his father, out of frustration, threw a basketball at him.
They were playing one-on-one against each other as they often did when Owen was in high school, and emotions boiled over.
“Games just get heated,” Owen Freeman said Thursday. “That’s where my competitive edge kind of comes in. It’s just been in the blood.”
Asked if he threw the ball back at his father, Owen Freeman said:
“I didn’t have to throw it back. I was working him.”
Owen Freeman has since developed into an emerging star for the Iowa basketball team, which hosts Rutgers on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
He credits his parents for helping him reach this level as a basketball player.
The 6-foot-10 Freeman already has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times, setting a program record.
Both of his parents played basketball for Olivet Nazareth University in Bourbonnais, Illinois and earned All-America honors.
His father also stands 6-9, so he was a formidable opponent for young Owen growing up in Bourbonnais.
“We had a family church and there was a blacktop court and that’s where they kind of taught me the ropes and just where we grew up playing with family,” Owen Freeman said.
Owen Freeman said he was either a freshman or sophomore in high school when he finally beat his father in one-on-one.
“I won’t let him live it down,” either,” Owen Freeman said of his father.
Freeman’s parents obviously taught him well based on his success in high school, and on his quick start as a Hawkeye.
He always has been tall for his age, so his parents taught him early on to not bring the ball down below his waist in the post, while a lot of younger post players struggle with that part of the game.
“I credit that a lot to my parents,” Freeman said. “They worked with me since I was young and always told me you’ve got to keep the ball up because guards will be down there and try and swipe.
“It’s something they instilled, and obviously coming here, the coaches have emphasized it even more.”
Freeman and Iowa freshman point guard Brock Harding both helped lead Moline High School in Illinois to a state title last season.
Turn the calendar back to today and Freeman is coming off a game at Wisconsin this past Tuesday in which he scored 14 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and had three blocks in an 83-72 loss.
Freeman has started the last five games and is averaging 10.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He also leads Iowa with 28 blocks and is second on the team with 17 steals.
“The thing about him, we knew he was a good player, but he’s just an incredible person to have in your locker room,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Freeman. “He’s very humble, but smart and competitive and talented.
“And I think you look at him and say, boy, he’s really doing well. But you also can plainly see that there’s more in there. And I think that’s what as a coach, and I think as a fan, you get excited about to know that he’s just getting started.”
Freeman will face a tough challenge on Saturday against Rutgers senior center Cliff Omoruyi, who leads the Big Ten with 43 blocks, and he also leads his team with an 8.9 rebounding average.
“He’s obviously a great player and has been since he’s been at Rutgers,” Freeman said of Omoruyi. “Coaches have a game plan. Obviously, a great defender. I’m going to come in and use shot fakes. But coaches are going to set me up to be able to play the best that I can and be able to use my own advantages against him.”
Iowa is 0-3 in the Big Ten for the second straight season.
A year ago, the Hawkeyes rebounded by winning seven or their next nine conference games and would go on to finish 11-9 in conference play and make the NCAA Tournament.
However, that team was led by All-America forward Kris Murray, fifth-year senior forward Filip Rebraca and sixth-year senior guard Connor McCaffery, all of whom have moved on.
“It’s a tough league, and it sounds cliché, but you’re really got to go one at a time and just try to prepare for the next one and figure out how to win that game,” Fran McCaffery said. “And obviously, if you’re losing a couple, which we have, then just play better.
“I think we did some really good things the other night (against Wisconsin). But we didn’t do enough to win. We have to be better.”
Iowa had 14 turnovers against the Badgers.
“You can’t turn the ball over on the road and expect to win,” Fran McCaffery said.
The good news is that Iowa’s next two games will be played at home where Iowa has won six of seven games this season.
Following the Rutgers game on Saturday, Iowa will face Nebraska next Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Rutgers (8-5, 0-2) vs. Iowa (8-6, 0-3)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series record: Iowa leads, 12-3.
Last meeting: Iowa swept the series in 2022-23, winning 76-65 in Piscataway, New Jersey and 93-82 in Iowa City.