Austin Freeman of Georgetown has developed diabetes, which shouldn't affect basketball career

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010; D01

Georgetown's leading scorer, junior guard Austin Freeman, has developed diabetes -- a condition that shouldn't affect his basketball career but does account for the illness, initially thought to be a stomach virus, that has limited his play.

Freeman disclosed the diagnosis in an interview Wednesday evening, joined by his physician, Stephen Clement, head of the Diabetes Center at Georgetown University Hospital; his father, Austin Freeman III; and Hoyas Coach John Thompson III.

"It's just something I'm going to have to deal with," said Freeman, 20, who received the diagnosis soon after he was taken to the hospital's emergency room Monday. "It's going to be a certain change in my diet and my life. But I know I can deal with it. I'll be fine."

The 6-foot-4 guard joined his teammates for practice Wednesday for the first time since he started feeling ill prior to Saturday's game against Notre Dame.

"I felt good," he said. "It felt real good out there to be back on the floor and playing with my team."

Thompson said it's not clear when Freeman will return to the team, neither ruling out nor penciling in his top scorer for Saturday's regular season finale against Cincinnati or the Big East tournament, which starts Tuesday in New York.

"That's something that will be determined over the next couple days and/or week," Thompson said. "Whether he is out there in practice today, or at the game on Saturday, or whenever he plays in a game, the most important thing is his health. He obviously has his family, but he also has our family and the support of his friends, teammates, coaches and trainers here."

Clement will be on hand as a precaution every time Freeman takes the court for the balance of the season, whether in practice or in games, to help him manage the condition.

"He's doing great," Clement added. "His sugars are very well controlled."

Diabetics aren't able to convert blood sugar to energy either because the body can't properly use the insulin it produces or because the pancreas quits producing insulin.

The latter case, which is less common (afflicting 5 to 10 percent of all diabetics), is classified as Type I diabetes and requires daily insulin injections or the constant delivery of insulin through an insulin pump.

Clement said it may take a month to determine which type of diabetes Freeman has and, in turn, what medication he'll require. Regardless, diabetes can be managed by following a routine that includes counting carbohydrates, following a healthy diet and testing blood sugars several times a day.

Numerous high-performing athletes compete successfully with Type I diabetes, including Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Gary Hall Jr. Former Gonzaga basketball standout Adam Morrison, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, had the condition diagnosed at 13 and manages it with an insulin pump.

"Having the success they have had just shows that diabetics can still do what they have to do," said Freeman, a McDonald's all-American and All-Met Player of the Year at DeMatha.

Freeman had felt ill for several days. But what began as a cold worsened as Saturday's tip-off neared. He had been urinating frequently, so team officials suspected a stomach virus and gave him intravenous fluids.

"I told Coach, 'I'll be fine. I'll be able to go,' " Freeman recalled. "I still wasn't feeling great, but I was feeling a little bit better."

Visibly shaky and pale, Freeman came off the bench and contributed five points over 23 minutes in the 78-64 loss.

"I was trying to do my best to help us out there," he said, "but I didn't have that much energy in that game."

After joining his teammates for the trip to West Virginia on Sunday, Freeman became increasingly ill and was driven back to Washington on Monday and taken to the hospital.

Georgetown (19-9, 9-8) could use Freeman's spark, having lost four of five. Freeman scored a career-high 33 points in Georgetown's come-from-behind victory over Connecticut on Jan. 9. He did much the same at Louisville on Feb. 23, scoring 29 points in a stirring comeback.

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