And One: Tine Freil, Danish trailblazer for Pacific

Tine Freil. (photo courtesy of Pacific Athletics)
Tine Freil. (photo courtesy of Pacific Athletics) /

International talent at Pacific.

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Never have international players had as much influence on the college game as now. From the German-born Sabally sisters out in Oregon to the Australian influence on Stanford and Syracuse, with Alanna Smith and Tiana Mangakahia, respectively, it has become commonplace for the best young international players to come overseas to play college basketball.

Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, foreign player representation in NCAA Division I basketball was much lower, and that’s one small part of what makes Tine Freil’s career at the University of Pacific special.

Freil was a 5’10 guard out of Denmark who even before her college playing days was a starter for the Danish national team for several years. That team toured the United States in 1989, playing college teams like Temple, St. Joseph’s, and Rutgers, and Freil led the team in assists with 13.4 per game.

That Fall she took her talent out to Stockton, California, to play for the University of Pacific Tigers. The Big West team had yet to find success in the years prior, shuffling through four coaches through a long run of losing seasons, leading to the hiring of new head coach Melissa DeMarchi.

And the turnaround was immediate.

More from History

Led by Freil, the Tigers improved on the 6-22 finish from the previous year to wind down the 1989-1990 season at 15-15 with a 7-11 conference record.

Ultimately, the Tigers’ only downfall was their inability to keep up with powerhouses UC-Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, who they lost to multiple times in the regular season and fell to in the conference tournament.

As a true pass-first guard, Freil had one of the most impressive freshman seasons the sport has seen. Averaging 11.1 assists per game, she added in 8.7 points and 3.3 steals on average. She started all 29 games she played, averaging an impressive 36.3 minutes.

That assist average is still the best season Division I has ever seen from a freshman, and her 321 assists is tied with Suzie McConnell-Serio’s total from 1985, though the Penn State guard had four more games to get there.

Freil was named the Big West Freshman of the Year and to the All-Tournament Team to cap off her record-setting first year in the United States.

The following season was much of the same. Freil kept up her red-hot guard play, dishing out 22 assists in a December 14, 1990 game against Wichita State, a mark that still stands as a single-game record for the Tigers and the Big West and is tied for second-best in NCAA history.

She earned two Big West Player of the Week honors en route to 37.5 minutes per game averaging 10.0 points, 8.7 assists, and 2.5 steals, maintaining her status as a two-way player.

The Tigers compiled a 15-13 record with a 10-8 record in conference, but once again could not get past UC Santa Barbara — led by future UCLA head coach Cori Close — who knocked them out of the conference tournament.

Freil continued to be a leader among the conference, ending the year named to the All-Big West First Team in her sophomore season.

The 1991-1992 season saw improvement for the Tigers in conference, finishing 13-5 overall and 11-7 in the Big West, including revenge wins over Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara and at least one win over the remaining California schools.

Improving her stats across the board, Freil continued to be a player Coach DeMarchi could not afford to take off the court. She averaged 37.3 minutes per game, scoring 14.1 points and averaging 9.0 assists and 2.7 steals.

Freil’s junior season including 10 double-doubles along with a 19-point, 21-assist game against Fresno State to close out the regular season. That is the seventh-best assist game, and Freil became the only player to have two of the 15 best single-game assist performances.

Coming off another All-Big West First Team season, Freil finished out her time at Pacific with one last winning season.

The Tigers finished 19-8 overall and 11-6 in the Big West, falling to New Mexico State in the conference tournament, but Freil continued to rack up impressive performances.

On December 19, 1992 at BYU, she notched a triple-double with 15 points, ten rebounds, and 11 assists. Over the duration of the season, she had a career-best 13 double-doubles in the most minutes of her four years.

Tine Freil. (photo courtesy of Pacific Athletics)
Tine Freil. (photo courtesy of Pacific Athletics) /

Averaging 37.8 minutes per game, Freil put up 14.0 points per game while averaging 10.5 assists, a career-best 6.5 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and 3.0 steals. Winding down her college career with another All-Big West First Team selection, Freil left an impact unmatched since.

“Our program has been defined by her presence on the floor,” Coach DeMarchi told the San Francisco Examiner late in Freil’s senior year. “She has an uncanny ability to control the offense and find the open teammate.”

Other coaches in the league agreed. Coach Joan Bonvicini, who led Long Beach State in the Big West during Freil’s first few years at Pacific, said that as a tall guard who didn’t make a lot of mistakes, Tine Freil was “way ahead of her time” and elevated her team.

“It’s hard to stop someone who’s a good assist player…because they make people around them better,” Bonvicini said.

Freil’s career numbers are stunning. She averaged 37.2 minutes in her 111 games played for the Tigers, putting up 11.6 points, pulling down 5.4 rebounds, and dishing out 9.8 assists per game. On the defensive end, she averaged 2.9 steals. While not a top threat from the field, she did shoot a consistent 41.9% and added 72.2% from the free throw line.

Her mark on the Pacific record books is unmatched. She is first in each of the following career categories:

  • Assists (1,088)
  • Assist average (9.8)
  • Steals (320)
  • Steal average (2.9)
  • Minutes (4,130)
  • Minutes average (37.2)

On top of that she is top-15 in both scoring total and average, but undoubtedly her mark was made by passing the ball.

She has the eight best assist games in Tigers women’s basketball history, all of them with 13+ assists. She has the four best assist seasons by both total and average for Pacific and four of the top seven seasons in steals.

Nationally, she has the best assist average by a freshman (11.1), and she keeps good company in the career assist categories. With the fourth-best career assist total, she sits behind Suzie-McConell-Serio, Andrea Nagy, and Courtney Vandersloot. By average, she is third-best behind Neacole Hall and McConnell-Serio.

Following her collegiate career, Freil went on to play professionally in Denmark, earning Danish League Player of the Year Honors in 1995 and 1997. Throughout the decade she continued to represent her country by playing for the Danish National Team.

To cement her place in Pacific athletics history, she was enshrined in the Pacific Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the 2004-2005 class.

While talking with Bonvicini, I asked if she could think of a more modern comparison for Freil’s game to help the masses who weren’t able to see her play. She said the first person who came to mind was Ticha Penicheiro, also an international talent who came to Old Dominion from Portugal in the mid-90s and went on to become an All-Star and champion in the WNBA as perhaps the best passer the league has ever seen.

As Penicheiro will be entering the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame this year, that’s certainly high praise, but where else do you look for a comparison to a player with the stats Tine Freil logged? As Bonvicini put it so bluntly, “the numbers speak for themselves.”