‘I don’t want to lose’: Javon Freeman-Liberty proving to be DePaul’s leader this season


Donald Crocker

DePaul senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty calls out a play during the Blue Demons’ win over Western Illinois on Saturday.

DePaul was searching for answers in the second half against Western Illinois on Saturday. The Blue Demons were playing poorly for most of the game, struggling to score and having a hard time keeping the Leathernecks from getting to the paint.

Coming off a highly emotional win over Rutgers, 73-70, on Thursday, DePaul didn’t play with nearly the same intensity against Western Illinois that it played with against the Scarlet Knights. 

That’s somewhat understandable considering DePaul only has seven scholarship players currently available and it was a significant downgrade in the opponent from Thursday to Saturday. 

The Blue Demons put themselves in a hole in the second half. Trailing 61-57 with 8:37 to play in the game, DePaul needed someone to step up and take the game by the scruff of the neck.

And that’s exactly what senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty did, scoring 14 consecutive points to put his team up 71-61 with 3:34 to play. He finished the game with a career-high 33 points, including scoring 27 in the second half. He also grabbed 11 rebounds. 

Through Freeman-Liberty’s heroics, DePaul was able to hold off Western Illinois 84-80 for its fourth straight win to begin the season. 

I don’t want to lose, and being that senior leader on the floor I feel like I got my guys together and came in and got the win,” Freeman-Liberty said after the game. 

Scoring 33 points is impressive enough, but he did that while playing all 40 minutes because head coach Tony Stubblefield currently has no other option at point guard. 

Oh, and, Freeman-Liberty also played all 40 minutes two days earlier against Rutgers, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Through four games this season, he is averaging 37.4 minutes per game, which ranks 16th in the entire country. 

“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “We actually run a lot, so I don’t want to say I’m built for this but I prepare myself for stuff like this.”

Donald Crocker

When Stubblefield was hired back in April to replace Dave Leitao, four of the five starters from last year’s team either transferred or declared for the NBA Draft. But one player decided to stick around: Freeman-Liberty, who transferred from Valparaiso to DePaul in 2020. 

“Javon is a very good player,” Stubblefield said. “He’s a great person. He is a good player and he has put himself in this position by the work he’s putting in the fall. We are asking that young man to do a lot; he played 40 minutes on Thursday, came back and played 40 minutes today.”

DePaul is currently missing four players — Jalen Terry, Tyon Grant-Foster, Ahamad Bynum and Javon Johnson — due to either eligibility issues or a medical situation. Most of the starters have had to play heavy minutes in the first four games, but the majority of the offensive responsibilities have fallen on Freeman-Liberty. 

He is not only scoring at a high-level — averaging 24.8 points per game, good enough for fourth in the nation — but he is limiting his turnovers (six in four games) while also serving as a facilitator, averaging 5.3 assists per game. 

“We got stops, which is what we’ve been preaching all day,” he said. “I know it was hard for us and it was a tough game but we did it. As that senior leader, I got them in the right spots for me to make stuff happen for us.”

After his two-game performance this past week, the Big East named Freeman-Liberty the conference Player of the Week for the second straight week — the first time a DePaul men’s basketball player has won the award in consecutive weeks. 

It’s way too early to determine how good this DePaul team is going to be, especially since it is still missing four key players. But if this program, under an entirely new coaching staff, is going to make progress in the Big East, it needs Freeman-Liberty to continue playing like he is right now and for others to be ready for their moment. 

Sophomore forward David Jones had his moment against Rutgers, draining three 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the game to push his team past the Scarlet Knights. He is one of the few returners from last year’s team that finished 5-14, and he said that he is already noticing some differences between last season’s team and this year’s group.  

“I think that we stay more together as a team,” Jones said. “And I think the coach got us prepared too.”

It’s been only four games and the schedule is going to get tougher in December, but all Stubblefield could have asked for so far is a perfect start — and he’s received that. 

Stubblefield knows that he and his team still have a lot of work to do, but it helps to alleviate some of that pressure when there is a veteran point guard leading the charge. 

“I got to do a better job of finishing out games and getting our guys prepared to start games better,” Stubblefield said. “I got to do a better job putting them in position and coaching them up to get the game a little faster.”