Before she stepped foot onto the hardwood of Worthen Arena, sophomore guard Sydney Freeman was already well known in the Albion, Indiana, community. That’s because her hometown has a population of 2,349 people.
Her graduating class at Central Noble High School? 106.
So, what was it that made Freeman stand out at a school where pretty much everyone stood out?
Freeman is most remembered for her involvement in the turnaround of Central Noble High School Girls’ Basketball. The Cougars had not won more than five games since the 2009-10 season, but Freeman took the team from one of the worst in the state to one of the most dominant teams, beginning with her arrival in 2015. The Cougars finished 18-7 her freshman season before going 23-5 her junior season and 27-1 her senior season.
Ask anyone about Freeman’s personality — herself included — and he or she will say she was a relatively quiet player. However, while she wasn't the most vocal player on her record-setting high school team, Freeman doesn’t shy away from what she enjoys.
“I like winning,” Freeman said. “One reason I came [to Ball State] was [because] Carmen Grande was here, and they were really good. I watched their games, and I committed because I wanted to play for a good team. The culture here at Ball State is that we're winners, and that's what [head coach Brady Sallee] tells us.”
Freeman’s love of basketball began long before she was even in elementary school. Her older sister grew up playing youth basketball and while Freeman was just a toddler, she would constantly beg to play and participate in her sister’s scrimmages.
Freeman was exposed to a winning culture at a young age. Her father, Todd Freeman, had coached her from the time she was in fourth grade until she graduated high school, including her Amateur Athletic Union teams.
"Sydney could basically 'two-ball' from about the time she could walk,” Todd Freeman said. “Once she kept developing and she understood how good she could become, that was probably the biggest thing for her.”
Sallee said he first discovered Sydney Freeman when she attended one of his elite camps between her freshman and sophomore years of high school.
“She was the best guard there,” Sallee said. "One of the biggest things I remember is every team that we put her on in that camp, her team won. Whether it was three-on-three or five-on-five, her team won. You look at what she was able to do in high school. Her team won. You look at what she was doing in AAU. Her team won.”
After Sydney Freeman’s sophomore year, Sallee compiled a list of seven of the best point guards in the Midwest. He spent the first half of the summer doing nothing but scouting them.
“We came out of it, and I said, 'Sydney's the best one,'" Sallee said. "She's the one that on day one, we can give the keys to the Corvette, and she can drive away."
Sydney Freeman led the Cougars to three conference championships and their first-ever sectional title in 2017. She then led the team to its first state championship in school history in 2018. Freeman owns the record for most points in school history with 1,741 and fourth overall in Noble County, a record that had not been approached since 2002.
One of the best memories former Central Noble teammate Meleah Leatherman has of Freeman was her presence as a great team player.
“Sydney was super fun and easy to play with,” Leatherman said. “We never argued or butted heads, and she always knew where to put the ball. A lot of my success [at Central Noble] was from her assists, and I'm blessed to have had a point guard for four years that was so good at putting the ball where it needed to go.”
Todd Freeman said members of the Albion and Central Noble community still text him almost daily about how his daughter is doing at Ball State.
“It’s unbelievable when you think of all the things she's done leading up to this point,” Todd Freeman said. “You just hope that she can be at that point where she can play some games, and then you see her take the lead and do well.”
Sallee echoed Todd Freeman’s sentiments and said Sydney Freeman has the potential to be the best point guard in the Mid-American Conference. She is averaging 11.6 points per game in her second season with the Cardinals.
“If you start putting the list of point guards in this league, it is stupid how talented it is at that position,” Sallee said. “My hope is that she looks at that, and she wants to be that kid. If she works to that level, and has that fire in her belly, it's scary to think what she can do here.”
If there was anything Todd Freeman is most proud about his daughter, it’s her ability to handle adversity.
"There's times that she struggles, and I know it's not easy for her," Todd Freeman said. "I feel for her at times, and I know she wishes things would get better for her but once you come out the other side of that, you'll learn a lot from it and become a better player and person from it.”
From turning around her high school program to making an impact in the cardinal and white, Sydney Freeman left a winning culture at Central Noble High School that she has now brought with her to Ball State.