Tim Frazier no longer strolls through campus on a motorized scooter. The injured Penn State star doesn’t bear a hefty boot on his left foot or even depend on crutches for support nowadays.
The remaining signs of his ruptured achilles tendon — a season-ending injury that occurred during the team’s fourth game of the season — aren’t nearly as noticeable as they were before, and he said his rehab is right on schedule three months later.
But, that doesn’t mean things are all positive in the life of Frazier, who has been left no choice but to watch from the sidelines as his teammates have put forth the worst 13-game start to a Big Ten season of any Penn State squad in recent memory.
“He’s upset,” coach Patrick Chambers said last month of Frazier. “There’s no question he’s upset. He wishes he could be out there helping these guys out. Unfortunately, he can’t, but he’s a ballplayer and he cares about this program.”
The 2011-12 first team All-Big Ten guard understands there are certain aspects of the team’s current situation he can’t control — whether it be the lack of a pure point guard or a consistently dominant scorer. But, at the same time, he has taken pride in finding ways to still positively impact the team from a coaching perspective, both in practices and in games.
In between taking cautious jump shots at a recent practice, Frazier said while the hardest part of the season has been watching the recent 13-game losing streak, keeping a hands-on approach has prevented him from ever getting too down.
“You always want to be able to contribute and help the team win,” Frazier said. “But, what makes me keep pushing and staying with a positive attitude is I see the guys working hard, knowing that they’re all in tough positions…To see them competing hard, as well as [me] keeping involved, I stay positive about everything.”
Teammates said they wouldn’t allow their fallen captain to waver mentally long-term if he started to show outward signs of unhappiness.
However, fellow captain Jermaine Marshall said keeping Frazier upbeat hasn’t called for much added emphasis on their part.
“I don’t think we would let that happen, but at the same time, Tim is a fighter,” Marshall said. “He’s done everything he could for this program and he never stopped believing in all of us or what coach is preaching. I think he’s a true believer in what we have going.”
An added voice on the sidelines
Frazier’s belief, not only in the program but also in his own knowledge, has helped lead him to become one of the most vocal members of the Lions’ bench during games.
The senior plans to file for a medical redshirt so he can return for a fifth season but in the meantime, he has tried to make the most out of this season by supporting the team through his words instead of his actions.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Frazier said of his changed role. “Coach has told me that from the beginning, ‘This is your time right now to be able to lead while not playing.’ As a player, I was always a leader but I tried to lead by example.”
The results may not jump out on the box score for the 8-17 Lions , but Chambers has stressed Frazier’s continued impact from a motivating perspective. The coach went so far as to say, “he’s coaching the team with me.”
The unofficial addition to the coaching staff has made his presence felt first and foremost in the practice gym, where freshman Akosa Maduegbunam has been most impressed with Frazier’s dedication.
“During walk-through the other day, he pulled me aside and showed me how to [defend] high ball screens,” the fellow guard said earlier this month. “He’s really vocal, especially toward us and it’s not like he’s floating around in this program or he disappeared. He’s very much still here and that’s great for us and guys like me.”
Meanwhile, within games, the Houston native dons a dark suit and occasionally sways up and down the sideline similar to his own coach, barking out orders — he often even steps a few feet onto the court as Chambers has become notorious for.
Team members said Frazier’s knowledge of the scouting report accompanied with his experience against conference opponents makes it nearly impossible not to respect his voice in the huddle, one that is often heard before even Chambers’.
D.J. Newbill, the team’s leading scorer and make-shift point guard in Frazier’s absence, said the lessons he’s learned from the veteran range from leading the team to specific in-game tactics.
“I’ve learned a lot of leadership attributes,” Newbill said. “[But, I’ve also learned] little tips during the games, like open looks, open reads and certain ways guys are going to play me. We watch film all the time on the games he played last year.”
Although Frazier said he doesn’t expect a coaching career after his playing days are over, he didn’t completely negate the idea, saying he has gained an enormous amount of respect for the impact coaches have on their players.
“I think it’s great to still be there and still have that impact I did when I was playing to be able to help the team,” Frazier said, “now with just saying words.”
Seeing the future
Frazier isn’t able to explain how his expected final season at Penn State — one that won’t begin for at least eight months — will turn out.
But, he said one of the main ways he’s improving his craft in the meantime is by developing an ability to predict the more immediate future within games.
“The best thing [about not playing] is that everything slows down. Sitting from the sideline, you see the things that probably I wouldn’t see if I was playing, especially with D.J.,” Frazier said.
“I see things before they happen. So, I think it’s going to help me in the long run, because next year I know exactly what I’m seeing before it happens.”
The main reason Frazier believes in himself to come and be better than ever, however, strikes a bit closer to home.
His older sister, Krystal, suffered the same injury while playing basketball at Rice, and was able to not only recover, but also improve the following season.
“My sister is number one. That’s love,” he said. “That’s blood right there and she went through the same thing. For her to come back and be the player that she was…it’s like, if my sister can do it, I definitely can do it.”
Frazier said the encouragement from team members, Chambers especially, has also helped him to realize that returning as an even better player is a real possibility.
As a junior, the guard averaged 18.8 points and 2.4 steals per game, also accounting for 58 percent of the team’s total offense with a conference-best 6.2 assists per game.
Still, Chambers expects improvement.
“I think he’ll be better,” Chambers said. “Because when you’re a fifth-year senior and when you’re sitting out next to the head coach most of the time, you start to see things that I see…So, I think you’re going to see a new and even more improved Tim Frazier.”
Frazier’s rehab plan has already allowed the 170-pounder to start building more upper-body strength. Pool workouts have helped him get his conditioning back up and soon, he said he’ll even begin to start working on increasing his quickness — which would be a scary thought for the speedy guard’s opponents next season.
Although five regular season games still separate the forgettable 2012-13 season from coming to a close, Frazier foresees a bright future for the program, one he hopes to play an even larger role in next season.
“Now, I have a year to be able to sit out, watch things, get stronger, get bigger and even try to get faster when I can use my legs more. So, it’s definitely a great feeling,” Frazier said.
“Why not be better?”