Chester Frazier extended his basketball career to finish on his own terms, so the former Illinois guard is playing professionally in Germany. But if he could make the decision again, Frazier would start on his college coaching career.
Chester Frazier extended his basketball career to finish on his own terms, so the former Illinois guard is playing professionally in Germany.
But if he could make the decision again, Frazier would start on his college coaching career.
"Had I thought about it a little more, I would have stayed,'' Frazier said in a recent interview with GateHouse News Service.
When Illinois plays at Northwestern on Saturday in a Big Ten Conference game, the Illini face a critical four-game stretch with three of those games on the road. A team lacking toughness and leadership might have found a boost if Frazier stayed as a student assistant coach. He was offered the position and appeared set on that direction, then left for a contract with BG-74 Gottingen.
"Watching the games on the Internet, I'm wishing I could be there, especially when they have a tough game and tough losses,'' Frazier said. "I wish I could be there for support. My relationship with some of the guys is really good. I feel kind of bad that I left sometimes because they looked up to me so much. I half-heartedly committed to staying, then I left.
"It's just one of those things where the money and the offer was there. Now I'm in a position to make some money. That jumped out at me. I wasn't content on how my college career ended with a broken hand. I just wanted to have a chance to get it out of my system, play another year and go from there.''
Frazier didn't thrill Illini fans with his speed or skill, and he endured the unfortunate timing of following former star Dee Brown. But Frazier's hustle, leadership and ability to guide Illinois to the NCAA Tournament last season improved his public approval rating.
It's nice to get paid to play, but Frazier misses the Illini as much as he misses ranch dressing and free ketchup at fast-food restaurants. Even though he's seven time zones away, Frazier still serves as an unofficial captain during regular conversations with his former teammates.
"I just try and stay positive with them,'' Frazier said. "It's natural for players to rebel against their coaches. I can mediate, because they respect me as someone who knows the game and prefers to teach and be positive at all costs. I give them insight that could help them win. Sometimes it helps coming from a different perspective.
"They know I genuinely want them to succeed. Those guys are like my little brothers.''
Frazier routinely emails Gary Nottingham, the assistant to the head coach, but limits contact with the other coaches because of their busy schedules.
"I also talk to coach (Bruce) Weber on the phone,'' Frazier said. "I try not to call him too much. When he needs to vent, I'm always there.''
Illinois junior forward Mike Davis speaks with Frazier four or five times a week. By passing along the same message as the coaches, Frazier still helps from long distance because players often listen to players more than their coaches.
"He says the same things as the coaches – run the floor, get rebounds, get the ball inside (because) they can't guard (Mike) Tisdale,'' Davis said. "He relates to us. Having been a guy who's been around the team and been around us, Chester can talk to the guys and get to them. He can tell them what to do.''
It would be different for Frazier this year if he'd stayed, Weber said. The player-coach relationships would be different, but Frazier would have been a conduit between the coaching staff and the roster.
"These guys have to make choices and decisions and improvement,'' Weber said. "He was good at talking to players and helping them. He still does that from afar. Playing hard and doing what you can do, Chester figured it out. He struggled the first couple years with us.
"You have to find a role and a niche. He understands that. Winning is important to him. He hated to lose. He sacrificed so we could be successful.''
Frazier is already planting the idea of returning, and he's asked Davis to talk him up to the coaching staff.
"If the opportunity ever came available, I'd love to get back to Champaign and help out, see my boys finish their careers and help those freshmen and sophomores relate to what our coaches want,'' Frazier said. "I love helping others and winning. I love the Illini.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois (12-7, 4-2) vs. Northwestern (13-5, 2-4)
7 p.m., Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117), Evanston (BTN, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (12-7, 4-2) ppg rpg
F Mike Davis Jr. 6-9 11.5 9.7
F Bill Cole Jr. 6-9 3.5 2.9
C Mike Tisdale Jr. 7-1 11.8 6.0
G Demetri McCamey Jr. 6-3 15.5 3.1
G D.J. Richardson Fr. 6-3 10.5 2.7
NORTHWESTERN (13-5, 2-4) ppg rpg
F Drew Crawford Fr. 6-5 10.9 4.5
F John Shurna So. 6-8 17.1 6.9
C Luka Mirkovic So. 6-11 7.4 5.9
G Michael Thompson Jr. 5-10 13.9 2.2
G Jeremy Nash Sr. 6-3 8.3 3.4
Noteworthy: Illinois leads the series with Northwestern 127-34 after winning the last 11 games. . . McCamey is averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in conference play. . . In the 89-83 overtime victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten opener, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis combined for 51 points on 20-for-28 shooting and 28 rebounds. Tisdale's 31 points were a career high. Northwestern set Assembly Hall records with 16 3-pointers and only three turnovers. . . In the first meeting, Northwestern was ranked No. 25, its first ranking in 41 years. Shurna had 27 points in the first game this season against Illinois. . .
Key for Illini: Sustain defensive intensity into the second half. A poor defensive team, the Illini are worse after halftime than before it.
Key for Wildcats: Shoot the 3. In the first meeting, Northwestern was 11-for-23 from the 3-point line in the first half.
Key quote: "These next four games are winnable game. There are three of four on the road. But if we play Illinois basketball, we can win those games.'' – Illinois forward Mike Davis.
Prediction: Illinois 68, Northwestern 67