BALLSTON SPA — Rashaun Freeman remembers the day it all clicked.
It was his junior season at Schenectady High School, and providing the inspiration was University of Texas big man James Thomas, who just a few years before had helped lead the Patriots to a state basketball championship.
“We scrimmaged Christ the King, and as part of our trip to the city, we went to the see the Preseason NIT. It was Texas against Temple,” Freeman said. “That’s when I realized it is possible, and from that point on, everything changed. Everything moved forward. My work ethic changed. I was more positive.”
Freeman emerged as a key player when Schenectady captured its second New York title in 2001, and as a senior the following year he continued to flourish. After a superb career at the University of Massachusetts where he was a three-time Atlantic 10 first-team selection, the 6-foot-9 center/power forward went pro in a career that’s taken him to such locations as Russia, France, Germany, Belgium and Puerto Rico.
“I had the talent but I didn’t believe in myself,” the 33-year-old Freeman said. “You’ve always got people trying to kill your dreams. I figured I would play junior college and get a job, but after watching James Thomas, I thought, ‘This is something within my reach.’ The biggest thing for me was believing.”
That’s the theme Freeman was spreading this week at the Ballston Spa Boys’ and Girls’ Booster Club Basketball Camp.
“Don’t let there be a wall,” Freeman, who goes by ‘Ray Ray’ to his friends and family, said of his message. “You’re going to have people tell you you can’t do it. It’s believable because, look at me, I did it. I play a pro sport.”
Camp director and Ballston Spa High School varsity boys’ basketball coach John Lea sought out Freeman, knowing his story and the value of it.
“To have Ray Ray in camp is a huge inspiration to the kids,” said Lea, a 1980 Linton High School graduate who has close ties to Schenectady. “We brought him in to teach the game and talk about hard work and life and how he got to where he is. He worked so hard to get there.”
Lea said he didn’t have to ask Freeman twice. Freeman, who had a tryout after college with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, is currently a member of Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Premier League. Locally, he played briefly with the Albany Legends.
“I asked him if he wanted to help out, and without hesitation he said, ‘No problem,’ ” Lea said. “The kids are excited to have him here, and I’d love to have him come back. In the future, I’ll be looking to get more players of his caliber to help this program, guys like James Thomas and [fellow 1998 Schenectady state champion] Willie Deane.”
Part of Freeman’s message is that goals are achieved through effort.
“It definitely takes work,” he said before guiding a team through a scrimmage in the Ballston Spa High School gymnasium. “And you want to start your development early. I did camps like these boys and girls you see here.”
The Ballston Spa camp, for youths in grades four through 10, will conclude its fifth year today.
“Each year it’s gotten better and better,” Lea said. “We started with 60 kids and we’re up to 90 now.”
Lea said teaching fundamentals is a big piece of the camp.
“The kids enjoy it. They’re having a good time, and that’s what it’s all about,” Lea said. “It’s great when you get emails from parents telling you that their kid had such a good time.”