INDIANAPOLIS—The media reports said that Illini guard Chester Frazier would be unable to participate in tonight’s quarterfinal against seventh-seeded Michigan.
Then Frazier ended up participating after all.
Not as a player, mind you. But the senior guard might have had almost as much impact tonight as he usually does on the floor, filling the role of assistant coach and head bench cheerleader in his team’s 60-50 win.
I understand your skepticism — but realize that to a man, Frazier’s teammates were bringing him up as not just the inspiration, but the motivation and key ingredient in a hard-fought win.
Mike Davis, you had a double-double tonight. Twenty-two points (twice your average), and 10 rebounds to boot. Why?
“Before the game, Chester came to my room. He told me to go out there and play hard. If you play hard, everything will take care of itself. That’s what I did tonight. He told me, ‘don’t worry about missing shots.’ I played a good game and my teammates came through and we came out with a victory."
Calvin Brock, you found yourself in the starting lineup today. Guess what! You get to guard All-Big Ten standout Manny Harris. How did you prepare for the assignment?
“Coach and Chester told me to get into him and try to make him put the ball on the floor, not let him square me up and shoot threes on me. That’s what I tried to do.”
Coach and Chester. Chester and Coach.
Maybe we can leave Illinois boss Bruce Weber out of it and just start referring to the All-Defensive standout as “Coach Frazier.” At least, that’s what sophomore Jeff Jordan hinted at as we discussed his role in the second-seeded Illini’s triumph.
“We watched film together,” Jordan said of the injured Frazier. “He’d point out what they like to do.”
Almost like having an extra assistant on the bench?
“Definitely — he fits that role,” Jordan said without hesitation. “I think it’s something he’d like to do in the future. He’s close to our ages, so he relates well to us.”
While it has to be heart-wrenching for a standout performer like Frazier (the league leader in assists) to sit out in the season’s most important month, he has kept a positive outlook.
“[Chester] was one of the loudest cheerleaders on the bench tonight,” his replacement, Brock, recounted. “He makes everybody play hard and we feed off his energy.”
Seems like Frazier did everything for the Illini but call timeout.
Wait a second.
Coach Weber, please tell me he didn’t call a timeout.
“Chester’s a tough critter. I hope he’s in there somehow [before the season ends]. It’s his senior year. If he can get in there, he would. He wanted to start tonight and have me call timeout just to mess with some people. But I didn’t want to take a chance.”
Mind games. Strategy. Motivational tactics.
Somebody hire this guy.
But you’d better hurry, because the guess here is that Frazier will be playing, not just coaching, sooner than we think.