Josh Freelove was deemed a bad fit for the University of Toledo basketball program in the spring of 2010. Three other schools later found value in him.
Justin Moss’ defective heart wiped out his playing career at Toledo before it took flight. He soon found homes with two new programs, each with a medical staff approving his participation.
Dumped by Toledo for different reasons, Moss and Freelove took winding paths involving stops at multiple colleges to Western New York, where they’re teaming together at Buffalo — an apparent refugee home for Toledo basketball defections.
The Rockets-turned-Bulls will return to their college starting blocks today when Buffalo visits Toledo for an enticing Mid-American Conference affair at Savage Arena.
Both teams are title contenders in their respective divisions, with Buffalo receiving a nice return on its one-year rental of Freelove, who is second on the team with 11.8 points.
Freelove and Moss refused to take the bait when asked about facing the school that deemed them unworthy, offering diplomatic responses such as, “There’s no extra motivation,” which came from Freelove, and “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” from Moss. Each is in his first year at Buffalo, signing in the spring to play for new coach Bobby Hurley.
Freelove, a senior scoring guard, is at his fourth school, a nomadic path that does not include the year he spent out of school. Like several former Rockets playing elsewhere, Freelove was a Gene Cross recruit, appearing in 28 games in 2009-10 with modest production. On a hapless team that managed four wins, Freelove averaged 4.3 points. His interaction with Kowalczyk was fleeting — one workout — and Freelove felt unwanted.
“He was gonna come in and clean out and bring in his own crew, no matter what was going on with anybody who was already there,” he said. “That’s to be expected with a new coach. I thought it was best for me at the time to just leave and start over.”
Freelove was among a wide-ranging roster purge, Kowalczyk’s way of removing the residue of a program aswarm with bad academics and bad attitudes.
Of the 14 players with eligibility remaining in Cross’ final season, none were still around for Kowalczyk’s second year.
He decamped for Lewis and Clark Community College in Illinois before taking a year off from basketball and academics.
He resurfaced at Alabama State last year and transferred to Buffalo following the season to play right away, exercising a NCAA loophole that gives immediately eligibility to seniors on teams facing postseason exclusion.
Alabama State won an appeal in late June, by which time Freelove had made arrangements to attend Buffalo.
Freelove has scored in double-figures nine times, providing relief to skilled center Javon McCrea, the front-runner for MAC player of the year.
“I am happy for both Josh and Justin that things have worked out for them,” Kowalczyk said. “They’re in good hands at Buffalo.”
Moss, a Kowalczyk recruit, was a coup for the Rockets out of suburban Detroit. With a 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame that looked to the naked eye to be even bigger, the Romulus product was expected to earn minutes on the interior-deprived 2011-12 team.
A preseason physical examination revealed in him Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart condition in which the heart muscle is thickened without any obvious cause, thereby making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.
A doctor in Boston who specializes in the disease recommended that Moss never play competitive sports again.
UT took heed, wishing to avoid an episode like the one in 2006 when Rockets basketball player Haris Charalambous died at practice from heart failure.
“I credit our doctors and training staff for saving his life,” Kowalczyk said.
Moss, who spent last year at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, has seen his playing time dip during the past month, logging just three minutes in a win Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
That’s three more minutes, though, than anyone expected he’d play after leaving Toledo.
“I wouldn’t say I’m upset,” he said. “I would have liked to play there. I thought it would have been great, but I found a new home.”