Every athlete plays a role on his team. We know the starters, the sixth man, and the coaches, but we don’t often see behind-the-scenes roles.
A typical Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball practice will have warm-ups, skill work, opportunities to review plays, competitive segments, and “pinnie” segments. The key players in the pinnie segments frequently fall into less visible roles.
The pinnie team is comprised of non-rotation players who scout opponents. Members of the pinnie team study an opposing player to learn his style of play and then replicate that in practices so the rotation players know what to expect in games.
For sophomore Toliver Freeman, his role on the pinnie team feels natural.
“In high school, we had to watch film,” Freeman said. “Our coach made us know our specific matchups, so I’m used to knowing how other players play. I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, so nothing’s really unfamiliar to me.”
The 6-foot-3 guard joined the Hawks as a preferred walk-on last season, but has been playing basketball since he was in kindergarten. Freeman’s two older brothers played basketball and Freeman learned from them, playing as often as he could.
Freeman was named the MVP of his high school team three consecutive seasons, scored over 1,500 points in his career, and averaged 19 points, six rebounds, and three assists in his senior year. He was scouted by Ivy League schools, but never received official offers. He wanted to leave his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana, eliminating the possibility of playing at smaller Division I schools in the state.
Yes, Baton Rouge. Just like the second-leading scorer in Hawk men’s basketball history, Langston Galloway ’14.
In fact, Galloway is the reason Freeman ended up at St. Joe’s.
“[Galloway] is connected to Coach [Geoff] Arnold, so they saw that I played basketball and thought I was a good fit to be a walk-on on the team,” Freeman said.
When Freeman heard he’d have a spot on the team as a walk-on, he knew St. Joe’s provided the best opportunity for him.
While Freeman saw action in only one game last season, he drew motivation from team tri-captain Brendan Casper ’17. Like Freeman, Casper came to Hawk Hill as a preferred walk-on his freshman year, and went on to earn an athletic scholarship for his final three semesters, playing in all 31 games during his senior season.
“It inspires me to come out every day and play with a chip on my shoulder like I’ve been doing my entire life and just keep working hard and playing hard and showing my skills,” Freeman said.
“Eventually, it’ll pay off like it did for Brendan… I learned from how he led on the court.”
Freeman focused on his shooting and learning more about the game over the summer. He also met and played pickup with Galloway once.
“It went well,” Freeman said. “It’s was a lot of fun. We’re both competitive.”
Freeman is prepared to compete for minutes this season, and when the time comes, he knows his defense and shooting skills will be an asset for the team.
Fellow pinnie team member Gerald Blount has a vastly different basketball background than Freeman. The 6-foot-6 forward hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up playing football and skateboarding. Blount watched basketball, but wasn’t able to play because he had scoliosis, which he’s since outgrown.
Blount didn’t start playing basketball until his freshman year of high school, when his uncle suggested he attend the Bob Hurley Basketball Camp.
“I went to that, and Bob Hurley said he wanted me to play for his school [St. Anthony High School], so I moved to New Jersey to play for his school,” Blount said.
When Blount started playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball the summer after his freshman year, he knew he wanted to go on to play Division I basketball.
After two seasons in New Jersey, Blount finished his high school career at Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut, where he was twice named an All-New England Honorable Mention Class B selection.
While still in New Jersey, Blount played on the same AAU team as 2015-16 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year DeAndre’ Bembry, though Bembry played in an older division. Blount and Bembry didn’t interact much, but Blount knew about St. Joe’s because of Bembry.
“[St. Joe’s] had a really appealing basketball team and I knew them education-wise, so I thought it was the best bet,” Blount said of his decision to come to Hawk Hill.
Blount played in nine games his freshman season and made his season debut against Columbia, playing three minutes, scoring two points on a pair of free throws, and grabbing one rebound.
The limited playing time pushed Blount to work hard in practices throughout the season and over the summer.
“During the summer, another teammate and I would work out in the morning and then we’d have a team workout in the afternoon,” Blount said. “Later that evening, we’d work out again, so three workouts a day.”
With the summer far behind him and eager to show off his physicality, defense, and scoring ability, Blount is focusing on this season with one goal in mind: play.
Blount and Freeman both hope to contribute to a team they expect will be a powerhouse in the Atlantic 10.
“The whole goal here is to win,” Freeman said. “Everyone has a mindset of being better each day that translates well.”
We don’t always see every aspect of a team. Blount and Freeman’s roles on the pinnie team are vital to the success of the team we see on the court. And now, they’re ready for more.
They’re ready to play, to win in the games we see.