Tim Frazier tasted a cold dose of reality as he strolled to class on a snowy Tuesday morning last week.
He was struggling to plow through the slushy campus sidewalks while maneuvering his new form of transportation — a bulky electric scooter.
The returning first-team All-Big Ten guard was primed to finish his career with a bang before rupturing his left Achilles tendon on Nov. 18 in the team’s fourth game of the season. Ever since, Frazier has been anchored by the scooter, and he said coming to terms with the season-ending injury hasn’t been easy — though he does plan to file for a medical redshirt this season and return for a fifth year.
Yet, the guard said he has managed to find the positives in the situation, whether it’s using the opportunity to coach his teammates from the sideline or draining jumpers from his scooter before practice.
Frazier often smiles while cruising through the practice gym on his new toy, and said he has definitely made the most of the scooter’s speedy capabilities.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Frazier said with a laugh when asked what his top speed is. “All I know is [its two speeds are] turtle and rabbit…I’m rabbit.”
Accepting a difficult reality
But, of course, there are times when the guard is saddened by the unfortunate situation. Frazier was named a preseason candidate for both the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards and was widely seen as one of the most dynamic guards in the country this season before going down.
Coach Patrick Chambers said Frazier has missed practice the most, because that was when the injured guard noticed the team improving and coming together as a unit.
“He’s holding up. That’s probably the best term,” Chambers said. “He has good days and bad. He wants to be out there. He misses playing.”
Although the Houston native has slowly come to terms with the injury, he hasn’t forgotten how much he misses the game.
Including the fateful November game against Akron when he suffered the injury, Frazier had played in each of the first 101 games of his collegiate career.
“Sometimes it’s tough,” Frazier said. “We go through stretches where I know I can help the team. I think the biggest thing is I really want to help these guys, and it hurts and it’s tough for me to be on the sidelines.”
The new home of Frazier’s wiry 6-foot-1 frame during games is a seat at the end of the Nittany Lions’ bench. However, he isn’t always found sitting in his chair, likely to the chagrin of team doctors.
Frazier refers to himself as the team’s No. 1 cheerleader and, as such, he instinctively jumps out of his chair during the more tense moments of games.
“I’ve never been hurt in my life, so this is a very different situation for me,” Frazier said. “Not being able to walk, you take that for granted every day, walking around and walking to class. But, I just have so much energy and I want the team to do so well that sometimes I have to stand up and jump.”
Embracing new role
But, Frazier has taken it upon himself to do more than just cheer from the sidelines while absent from the court.
He has become a self-appointed assistant coach, saying, “the only thing I can do is lead by my voice.”
Redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall said Frazier addressed the team in the locker room shortly after his injury and encouraged them to play with the same heart they always have.
“Before the game, he gave a little speech about how you just have to take it for what it’s worth,” Marshall said. “He has no time to hang his head. It’s time to get better. That’s what he’s focusing on and I think he’s done a great job of that.”
Marshall added that Frazier has continued to act as a coach when it comes to X’s and O’s as well, often speaking to the team at halftime even before Chambers does.
Frazier has especially taken D.J. Newbill, the redshirt sophomore who replaced him at point guard, under his wing. The transfer player has never manned the ball-handling position before, so he said internalizing Frazier’s knowledge has served him well.
Chambers said Frazier has often become emotional when coaching up Newbill because he knows how important the guard, who averages 14.7 points per game, is to the team after his injury.
The coach added that the inactive star still travels with the team for away games and rooms with Newbill.
“He needs to [travel with us] because he’s captain of this team,” Chambers said. “We’re going to put them together so Tim can kind of guide him along on what to expect and what to see and how to handle certain things as a leader.”
This season and beyond
Embracing his player-coach role isn’t the final chapter of Frazier’s career, however.
The guard, who averaged 18.8 points per game last season, expects to return for a fifth season after applying to redshirt the current one due to the injury.
Frazier said he looks forward to coming back refreshed next season, having learned from his new sideline perspective.
“I’m following [coach Chambers] everywhere he goes, and we’ll sit there and talk about stuff,” Frazier said. “I see the things that he gets upset with me about now, being off the court.”
Although Frazier said he will have his leg in a cast for at least another two weeks, he expects to begin upper body training as soon as he is once again able to stand.
Marshall said his teammate has acted as a role model to the team through his perseverance during rehab, and he expects Frazier’s hard work to pay off come next season.
“He’s been a great leader in the ways that he can,” Marshall said. “He’s obviously a great basketball player and I think he’s going to be even better when he gets back.”
Frazier will return next season for his final hurrah along with the entire current starting lineup, including both Newbill and Marshall, the team’s next-leading scorer.
Though the Lions have played true to their youth at times this season, Frazier said he has seen signs of brilliance that allow him to become extremely excited for his final year.
Sure, he may be scooter-ridden for the time being. But Frazier smiles from ear to ear when asked about what this team is capable of — not only next year, but in his absence this season as well.
“You get another year of college and you get another year of basketball,” Frazier said. “Obviously, it’s tough, and it hurts to not be able to play right now. But seeing these guys win and seeing these guys grow in front of your eyes…it just makes you look forward to next season.”