Poncho Freeman showed flashes on Shawnee Heights’ state tournament team as a sophomore, which continued into the summer playing for the Kansas All-Stars.
So it’s no surprise that Freeman is having a breakout junior season averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds through four games.
Freeman, a 6-foot-2 forward, is coming off of his best game of the season with 20 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks in a 50-48 win over Washburn Rural, which included making two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to lift the T-Birds.
“I was surprised (Josh Brady) fouled me, but when I walked to the free-throw line I was confident and I just knew I had to knock down at least one to get the win,” Freeman said. “It was a good win for us. We need to carry it over when we get back [from break] and build off of this.”
It was a positive bounce-back game for Freeman and the T-Birds, who were coming off of a 76-48 loss at Seaman. Freeman had 12 points and eight rebounds.
“I was embarrassed for the Seaman game and I was ready to come back and prove everyone wrong and the coaches were getting on me that I need to play better because I’m kind of the guy to go-to,” Freeman said.
One of the impressive things about Freeman is his offensive efficiency, which include a true shooting percentage of .696, which is the tops in Topeka after posting the fourth-best mark last year at .606. His shooting percentage is 63.9.
“My teammates always give me the ball in the right spot and I never try to force anything,” Freeman said. “When it’s a good shot, take it and if not then just pass it and move the ball around more.”
Shawnee Heights (3-1) is currently ranked eighth (Class 5A) in the latest KBCA rankings.
“It’s been going great,” Freeman said. “I was worried about how we would start, but we’ve started off pretty good. We started off better than I expected.”
Shawnee Heights has had to replace all five starters and their coach with many players having different roles from last year’s 20-3 team, but have gotten off to a good start with wins over KC Turner, Lansing, and Washburn Rural.
“It’s been good, I like it better,” Freeman said. “Instead of being a reserve I’m one of the go-to guys because I’m used to that and then everybody is fitting into their roles and getting used to it.”
The loss to Seaman, ranked sixth in 5A, was a learning experience.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to and I saw half the team just kind of shut down,” Freeman said. “We need to work on that and not get down like that again and always make sure if we are down big to cut it little by little.”
Moving forward Freeman would like to see the team improve in a few areas.
“We need to focus more on defense and boxing out,” he said. “The possession is not over until we box everyone out and get the ball, then we can start running.”
Fellow junior Trey Brown, a 5-foot-10 point guard, is also having a breakout season for Shawnee Heights averaging 14.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 steals a game.
“He’s been doing real good and taking his shots real good,” Freeman said. “He’s always finding the open man, kicking it to the corners, getting the extra pass in, and he’s been doing good on defense too with shutting down their best players.”
Senior center Ahmad Winston (leg) is expected to make his season debut when the T-Birds resume action on Jan. 5 against Highland Park (3-2).
“He’s going to be more of a defensive presence,” Freeman said. “We don’t have a shot-blocker so when we get beat off of the dribble it’s kind of just a wide open layup, but when he gets back he’ll be able to alter the shots more.”
The Shawnee Heights-Highland Park game has provided some intense battles in recent years and this year is expected to be much of the same between two teams competing in the same eight-team sub-state bracket.
“To win, when we get the rebound we need to push it because I’m pretty sure they’ll probably play zone,” Freeman said. “So we need to score before they setup and get quick easy points and box out everybody and no fouling.”
Freeman plays summer ball with a number of Highland Park players including Malik Keith, Harold Emanuel, DaiShoun Fox, Will White, and Ahmad Fox.
“It’s always fun to talk trash and have the ability to talk trash after the game when you get the dub,” Freeman said.