Since the Carnesecca era, which began in 1965, basketball at St. John's has been played at a pokey pace. Mahoney was a disciple of Carnesecca's and coached a similar style, and Fraschilla will emphasize ball control as long as he has no depth. "Felipe's game isn't coming off screens," says Freeman. "He's a creator who can break you down off the dribble—more of a pro-style player. If he played in a style like ours, he'd do well."
Freeman has done spectacularly well in Penders's system, which is predicated on squeezing off more shots than your opponent. But he has also thrived because he left New York. "New York prepares you for anything," says Penders, who spent a dozen years coaching at Columbia and Fordham. "If you don't develop street smarts there, you can't leave your apartment, and Reggie is very street smart. When he tries to lay an excuse on me about being late with a paper or missing a class, I just tell him, 'You can't con Edison.' For Reggie, Austin, Texas, is a piece of cake."
Lopez is not particularly street smart. "What I love about Felipe," says Fraschilla, "is that he's a goofy 22-year-old who's somewhat naive."
It's tough enough playing big-time basketball for yourself and your teammates. By choosing St. John's, Lopez took on two additional constituencies: his family, particularly his brother Anthony, who was a regular at Mahoney's practices; and New York's huge and proud Dominican community. "Felipe's problem is he stayed home," says Freeman. "Some of his family and friends wanted to live through him, wanted him to be their savior, and that put a lot of pressure on him. At Texas they worry about the football team not doing well. In New York, if you're not doing well, you got to get ready for that back page."
Even in New York, Freeman rarely made the newspapers—his signing with the Long-horns got small notice, while that same day one paper ran a much bigger story about Lopez, still only a junior, paring his choice of colleges to a dozen. As for family pressures, Freeman's mother, Edna, and his brother, Ernest, came to only a handful of his high school games (his father, Charles, died when Reggie was 10).
In Austin, Longhorns veterans like Terrence Rencher, a buddy of Freeman's from the Bronx and the Southwest Conference's alltime leading scorer, took him as their protégé, affectionately calling him Fran (as in franchise) because of his genial cockiness. "Reggie spent most of his freshman year trying to prove he could do things he couldn't do," says Penders. "But that was O.K. I liked the fact he had confidence."
And there was that shot. Both Freeman' and Lopez went off to college with low-slung jumpers, disfigured by years of practicing in the Rice gym, where the rafters are only seven feet above the basket. "When I first came, coach Penders said if I didn't shoot the ball, I'd be sitting on the bench," Freeman says. "And I'm not the type who likes to sit on the bench."
So he learned how to shoot, taking thousands of jumpers till he had added more arc to his shot. Through Texas's first eight games this season, nine different players had fouled out trying to guard him, while Freeman's own defensive efforts had left such guards as Rhode Island's Tyson Wheeler (3 for 17 field goal shooting) and Fresno State's Dominick Young (7 for 21) contemplating remedial shot work of their own.
"It's great to know someone I played with is doing so well, and to see how good a shooter he's become because of the way he's worked," says Lopez. "Reggie's a great player out there. I'm trying to become the same player here. We're in two different places but chasing the same goal.
"I guess that's what life's all about. Being together, having joy for a while, and then breaking up."