Keith Freeman showed up in Albuquerque this week with much to learn and eager to get started.
He spent Wednesday afternoon prepping for his new position as associate head coach with the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team and signed a contract Thursday. Freeman and longtime Lobos assistant coach Val King will both hold associate head coach job titles on head coach Mike Bradbury’s revamped staff.
Freeman, 58, is undertaking a crash course on UNM’s 2022-23 squad. He watched Wednesday’s summer workout from the sideline, roster in hand, taking copious notes and doing his best to get familiar with players.
“I’ve probably watched eight to 10 New Mexico games every year since Mike has been here,” Freeman said. “I watched some games last season so I’m familiar with the Duff twins, Shai (McGruder) and Paula Reus, but that’s about it. I have to get to know all the players, see what they can do and find out what we need to work on to maximize things.”
UNM is new territory for Freeman, whose previous time in New Mexico was limited to airplane stops. But adjusting to new surroundings and a new team are familiar tasks.
With nearly 40 years of college coaching on his résumé (he started at age 19), Freeman knows how to hit the ground running. He’s won more than 400 games as a head coach, 286 of them at Valparaiso from 1994-2012, and has since served as an assistant at Wright State (2012-18) and associate head coach at Old Dominion (2018-20) and Mississippi State (2020-21).
That tenure includes time spent coaching with Bradbury at Wright State and against him while at Valparaiso.
“Keith beat me a couple times so I figured I should hire him,” Bradbury joked. “Actually, we went 2-2 against each other but I’ve been trying to get him to come here for about four years. His experience is clearly off the charts. He’s a basketball junkie and loves working with kids.”
Freeman’s duties will include working with post players and coaching defense.
“Defense is his specialty,” Bradbury said.
Freeman smiled when asked about a second stint working for Bradbury.
“Mike’s a great coach,” he said, “great offensive coach, great at the end of quarters, great overall. I’ve worked with some really good people the last few years, but Mike’s the only coach I would’ve come this far from home (Indiana) to work for. I’m looking forward to learning about Albuquerque and the Mountain West.”
That includes adjusting to the climate — something Freeman received a faulty scouting report on from Bradbury.
“He told me it never rains here and it never snows,” Freeman said. “I think it’s rained for four days straight, and I watched UNM’s game against Colorado State last year when the snowstorm hit. I’m not sure I trust his weather reports.”
With the exception of King, who has been with the Lobos since Bradbury was hired in 2016, UNM’s staff will look entirely different. Assistant coaches Symone Denham, Kabrina Merriweather and special assistant Ryan Freeman have accepted jobs with other programs. Denham will be an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at Bradley, Merriweather will work as an assistant under her sister, Katrina, who is head coach at Memphis, and Freeman will be an assistant at Northern Arizona.
UNM still has one assistant coaching spot open. Bradbury said he is considering former Lobo and director of player development Nike McClure for that position. The contract year for assistant coaches begins July 1.
EARLY IMPRESSIONS: Thirteen players took part in Wednesday’s practice at the Davalos Center, including six newcomers (transfers Amaya Brown and Nia Johnson and freshmen Jaelyn Bates, Natalia Chavez, Brooke Berry and Hannah Robbins). Transfer Hulda Joaquim (completing summer classes) and sophomore Reus (offseason knee surgery) are expected to arrive in late July.
“It’s a talented group,” Bradbury said. “The freshmen are talented and we’re faster as a team. We may not shoot as many 3s because Amaya doesn’t hunt them like Jaedyn (De La Cerda) did, but I don’t think we’ll change too much offensively. Defense is to be determined, but we’ve got good length and quickness which helps.”