For another kind of job, Will Freedman probably wouldn’t have moved to a small town in northeast California that is perhaps best known for its prisons. He most likely wouldn’t have put up with having to sleep in a dorm or eat Top Ramen noodles and hot dogs on a regular basis. It’s doubtful that he would’ve been able to stomach working part-time at the local newspaper to supplement his nonexistent salary.
To be able to coach basketball, though, Freedman is willing to push his limits.
“This is what I want to do,” he said.
Freedman, who graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2006, recently became the head coach of the men’s basketball program at Lassen Community College in Susanville. It’s far from a glamorous gig, but it’s allowing him to develop his skills as he carves out a career on the sideline.
But Freedman isn’t just learning on the fly, although there’s plenty of that. When he reflects on his journey in the coaching ranks, he thinks about how much he’s absorbed from Vikings boys basketball coach James Hecht.
“I wouldn’t have gone as far as I did if it weren’t for him,” he said.
While playing under Hecht during his time at Samohi, Freedman began considering coaching as a profession. The 6-foot-5 forward then joined the men’s basketball program at Cal State East Bay in Hayward and led his team in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage en route to being named the conference freshman of the year.
Freedman tore his anterior cruciate ligament a few games into his truncated sophomore season, but he was granted an extra year of eligibility. He rounded out his collegiate career in the top five on the all-time scoring list at East Bay, where he studied finance and economics.
He later signed with a professional team in Israel and represented the United States at the 2011 Pan-American Maccabi Games in Brazil. As he played for other coaches, though, Freedman realized how much he appreciated Hecht’s style.
“Not everyone is the same as he is,” he said. “I didn’t have the greatest coaches, and seeing the different dynamics kind of ignited a fire. It really inspired me.
“The hardest practices I ever had to go through were Hecht’s. … You were held to a standard higher than anything, and that’s how you get better. That’s what I learned with him.”
Freedman landed his first coaching job back at Samohi in 2012-13, working with the sophomore team while serving as an assistant for the varsity team that won a section title. He stuck around for 2013-14, guiding the junior varsity squad while also helping Hecht.
“Knowing the impact Hecht had on me, if I could have a fraction of that type of impact on some of my players, it would be very meaningful,” Freedman said.
It’s the kind of impact he’s been able to have at Lassen, where he started as a volunteer assistant under then-coach Devin Aye last year. But it was a tough transition for Freedman, who was living in the dorms with the team’s starting point guard while covering sports for the Lassen County Times and earning a master’s degree in athletic administration online from Irvine-based Concordia University.
The grind seemingly paid off for Freedman, who was offered the reins at Lassen after Aye left to take another job this past summer. He has since taken on the challenges of recruiting across the country and serving as a role model for his players, many of whom have struggled academically.
“When it comes to athletics, if you’re good enough to go to the NCAA, you can get there unless your grades are bad,” Freedman said. “So I really have an opportunity to impact them.”
The Cougars haven’t done particularly well on the court this season, losing five of their last six games before winter break. But Freedman wants to be judged by more than his team’s winning percentage.
“If I have to discipline somebody and I decide not to because I want to win the game, I’m not helping the team because they’re not learning anything,” he said. “I want them leaving here better than when they came.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.