She’d dreamed of playing in Florida, but when she visited the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, her wanderlust suddenly sprang a leak.
“I started thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be so homesick here,’” she admitted. “And my grandma comes to every game, so I can’t be too far away.
“So I thought I’d check out Dayton. It was my last visit.”
She’s heard about the Flyers program from her former Ball State teammate Ella Skeens, who had left UD after two years, played the 2020-21 season at Ball State and then moved on to Rio Grande, where she was an NAIA All American last season.
“She told me the games at Dayton were crazy; how so many people came and it was really cool,” Freeman said.
When she first visited, Freeman said UD lived up to the advanced billing.
“I didn’t get to meet any players because only a few were remaining here,” she said. “But I met the coaches and they were awesome. They were genuine people and seemed to really care about me.”
She was especially taken with head coach Tamika Williams-Jeter: “She has a big personality. She’s just really personable and she really cares about us as people.”
The program’s success impressed her as well:
“You go into our locker room or the coaches offices and there are trophies everywhere. Dayton has a history of winning and going to the (NCAA) Tournament. There’s definitely a culture here.
“Then I saw the gym and heard about the fans who support us.
“And I was like, ‘Wow! I can see myself playing here!’”
Had that not worked, Williams-Jeter would have pulled her trump card: Anthony Grant, the men’s coach.
“We talk all the time,” she said. “I tell him half my recruits I could land in about five minutes (with him). He’s working out one day when one of my recruits comes in. He walks up to them and the mom and dad are (in awe) and a couple days later, she commits.
“So I said: ‘Official visits are going to go as follows: Eat breakfast. Go to see Coach Grant. Go home. Commit.’ It’s that simple.
“I know he’s busy, too. He’s got a ranked team. ... (His) guys are very respectful and mannerable. I love ‘em. And whatever we need (Grant) has always been there. If he gets something, he always tries to look out for our program which is really awesome.
“He’s been a great backbone. ... If he sees a recruit and I’m walking with them, he comes over, introduces himself and then they go home and then, what do you think they do?
Growing up in the gym
Growing up in Albion, Ind., where her dad – who’s also an engineering manager at Robert Bosch LLC – is a longtime assistant coach of girls and now boys at Central Noble, Sydney said she sent a lot of time in the gym:
“From the time I was little, I was always at his practices, shooting at one of the hoops they weren’t using.
“Then I became their manager and travelled with them. I’d get on the team us and talk to the players and I used to think I was so cool. I said, ‘One day, I’m gonna be just like them!’”
But she wasn’t.
She was better.
As a high school junior, she led the Cougars to the state title and she ended up the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,741 points.
She eventually would attract 20 college offers – many from the Mid-American Conference – and signed early with Ball State, following a down season of AAU ball and the suggestion by a trainer that she sign somewhere in case she had another down season.
She won the starting point guard job as a freshman in the fall of 2019 and started 30 of 31 games, missing just one game – against Wisconsin – after she got food poisoning at a tournament in the Bahamas.
She averaged 10.1 points per game that first season and was name to the All-MAC Freshman Team.
The following year, a COVID-shortened season, she started all 24 games, averaged 12.3 points a game and again won All MAC honors. Last season she started 31 games, missed two with an ankle sprain, and averaged 11.1 points per game.
As she contemplated transferring, the Dayton program was going through a complete transformation.
Head coach Shauna Green left for Illinois and took two of the top underclassmen with her. Five veteran players graduated and three more transferred elsewhere.
That only left four little-used players on the roster when Williams-Jeter took over. She had to scramble to find players and landing he 5-foot-8 Freeman was a coup.
“It feels like my freshman year all over again,” Freeman said. “I’m meeting new people with lots of different personalities and different experiences. It’s fun.”
In trying to mold a team put together quickly, Williams-Jeter needs Freeman – with 84 college starts, her most experienced player – to help facilitate the task.
While Freeman said she’s not so much a vocal leader – “I try to lead by my actions,” – the coach is trying to change that.
“About 85 percent of our team is introverts, which is interesting from the energy standpoint,” Williams-Jeter said.
“I’ve asked (Sydney) to open her mouth every time she steps on the floor, especially on the offensive end. We have to have that because I can’t do it (out there.)”
Freeman said her role will be a little different this year than it was with Cardinals:
“They want me score a lot and facilitate here. At Ball State I was more of just a facilitator.”
Williams-Jeter said Freeman has the “green light” when it comes to shooting: “She shot her jumper out of the building this summer. She can be very explosive offensively.”
And if all that comes to pass, there just might be some hoops heaven around Flyers women’s basketball this season.