Standing up in front of all her family and friends, it didn’t take long for Brianna Freeman to break down. She missed her father.
The 6-foot Harker Heights senior choked up as she thanked those in attendance who have helped her through the last 13 months while her father, Ret. Sgt. Major Lamar Freeman, has been working in Afghanistan as an independent contractor.
“It was hard because my junior season is like the big turning point for anybody, so it gave me something to work towards,”
Freeman said. “It made me work harder, practice harder, play harder. Every game I played was pretty much for him because he was the main reason I picked up a basketball.”
All that extra time and effort paid off Wednesday when Freeman signed her letter of intent to play basketball at the University of New Mexico, celebrating alongside friend and fellow Division I prospect JaQuan Jackson during a joint signing ceremony Friday inside the Harker Heights gym. Jackson signed her scholarship papers to attend Louisiana Tech also Wednesday.
“He kind of had to do the dad thing from a distance when it came to me choosing my school, so that was a little hard,” said Freeman, the District 12-5A offensive MVP last year after averaging 11.4 points and 6.5 rebounds in helping Heights to a program-best 35-2 season.
“Last year, (the hardest part) was playing and not hearing him, because my freshman and sophomore year, that was the one person I’d hear throughout the whole 32 minutes of a game.”
Freeman is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered in the offseason and then re-tore shortly before the start of her senior season.
“I had the ACL surgery done and I guess I was just working out too hard — it’s in me naturally to work hard — and so I end up retearing it and had to go to another doctor,” she said.
But despite the injury, which scared off several interested schools, New Mexico maintained its commitment to Freeman, making her decision all the easier.
“I feels good to know that somebody out there still had faith in me even though I had two ACL surgeries in like six months,” Freeman said.
Although it’s unlikely she will be able to return to the court in time to play her senior season, Freeman is determined not let it hold her back whenever she does return.
“ACL surgeries or any type of injuries shouldn’t stop me from being the player I know I can be,” she said. “It’s just going to take time for me to recover and get back to where I was.”
Jackson finalized her commitment to Louisiana Tech with one swipe of her pen.
“It still feels like a dream, I can’t believe it,” Jackson said Friday. “But this is what I wanted, I got it, I worked hard for it, I deserve it.”
Making it official brought a big sigh of relief for Jackson, last season’s District 12-5A co-MVP, after moments of wondering whether or not this day would ever come for the undersized guard.
“It was real stressful going through the process thinking I wouldn’t sign in the early period,” said Jackson, who led the Lady Knights in several categories averaging 12.2 points, 4.9 steals, 5.9 deflections and 2.9 assists per game last year.
But the best part was getting to share it with her best friend — Freeman.
“We’ve been close for the last five years, playing on the same basketball teams, and we got together and were like, ‘Are we going to sign together or what?’ ... We’re best friends, so we decided to sign together and we made a big thing out of it,” Jackson said. “I felt like I’d rather sign with her than anybody else.”
Of course, getting to this point wasn’t the easiest of roads.
“I always said I wanted to play basketball in college, but I had to work hard for it — waking up at 4 in the morning, going to KPR, putting up shots, getting somebody to shoot with me, ... coach Nelson yelling and screaming at me,” Jackson said. “Everything was worth it now that I look back on it.”