Fordham's season wasn't the only thing that came to an end on Thursday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
The 87-74 loss to Dayton in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament also ended the Fordham career of Branden Frazier, the Rams' senior guard who will go down as one of the best to ever play basketball at Rose Hill.
In Frazier's four years at Fordham, the Rams went 34-85. This year, one that started out with some promise, ended with 21 losses, including the last eight games leading up to the conference tournament.
Still, head coach Tom Pecora, who just completed his fourth season at the school, insisted after the final regular-season game that his team is "close to turning the corner."
Surely, some will snicker at that comment given Fordham's struggles since joining the Atlantic 10 nearly two decades ago. After all, in 19 seasons in the conference, the Rams have finished .500 or better just twice, and in that time, they've won only five games (if you include their 70-67 win over George Mason in Wednesday night's play-in game) in the conference tournament.
Others might look at guys like Frazier and think that if Fordham can continue to bring in players, and young men, of that caliber, then better days are certainly ahead.
Truth be told, however, it didn't happen with Frazier. This past season, there were times when Fordham was as bad as its conference record (2-14) would indicate.
Frankly, and this was more evident this year than ever before, Frazier didn't have the supporting cast. For starters, he was the only senior who played regularly. If you watched him play, it was obvious that he was one of the better guards in the Atlantic 10. You can't help but wonder what could have been, if only he had a bit more talent around him.
"It's hard when you have one senior trying to teach a bunch of young guys how to do things," Pecora said.
"I feel bad that he's kind of Butch without Sundance. If we had had another guy in that class that really progressed like he did we would have turned this thing around."
Ask anyone, from opposing coaches to those who know him best, and they'll tell you how much respect they have for Frazier. On Senior Day last Saturday at the Rose Hill Gym, the ovation said it all.
Frazier admitted after that game that walking to center court where he was greeted by the coaching staff was, as you would expect, an emotional moment for him. But in typical fashion, he said that winning the game—Fordham lost to George Washington, 70-67—would have made it even better.
But that's not how things have gone for Fordham over the last four seasons, something Frazier has handled about as well as anyone could.
Consider that he played for Bishop Loughlin, one of New York City's best high school programs. In his senior season alone, he won 23 games, just 11 shy of what he won in four years at Fordham. But you won't hear Frazier question his decision to come to the Bronx.
"Although the team has been going through its ups and downs, just being at Fordham and being a part of Fordham is the best decision I ever made," Frazier said. "Coming here and getting my degree, and just being around a bunch of people that supported me, made me who I am.
"Basketball isn't everything. Fordham made me a man."
On a team that doesn't receive a whole lot of attention, Frazier is as big as it gets. He's on the cover of the team's media guide, a photo of him appeared on press credentials and, this week, he was featured in The Wall Street Journal, where he talked about his time at Fordham and what it would be like playing in the Atlantic 10 tournament right down the street from where he grew up.
"It's going to be hard to say goodbye," Frazier said in the WSJ article via Dave Caldwell. "But I'm ready to move on, too. Coach has molded me. It's not like he's pushing me on. It's like he's saying, 'You're ready.'"
The next step for Frazier will be playing professionally at some level, but Pecora says that there will always be a place for him at Fordham.
"When he's done playing there will be Fordham people lining up to hire him," he said. "That's why you come to Fordham. It's not about four years; it's about 40 years."
No one knows Frazier better than Pecora. He recruited him to play at Hofstra, and when Pecora took the Fordham job, he convinced Frazier to come with him.
They will forever be linked.
"When I made the decision to come here it wasn't an easy one, and he didn't hesitate," Pecora said. "He's a big part of this. He's been so involved with our recruiting and our ability to get players like Jon Severe and others." (Pecora also mentioned Eric Paschall from Connecticut's St. Thomas More Prep who will join the Rams next season.)
Pecora and Frazier have a good relationship, one built on honesty and trust. The coach is honest with his player, and the player trusts his coach. That bond was on display following Fordham's near-upset of George Washington last Saturday when Frazier missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
At the press conference after the game, with the two sitting side by side, Pecora talked about how much Frazier has meant to the program.
"Branden's been a spokesman for this program," he said. "When guys graduate you want them to be Fordham men, and without a doubt he's grown into becoming a great Fordham man."
Though they didn't do much winning, Frazier should be remembered for the role he played in helping a struggling program take that next step. He was a four-year starter who is second in school history with 495 assists and ninth in points with 1,642. This season, he led the team in scoring and assists.
"I know he would give all of that away to be able to say he was here and he helped us turn it around and have a winning season," Pecora said.
It's clear that his contributions, on and off the court, won't be forgotten.
"When we're winning next year I'll mention Branden Frazier a lot because he set the foundation for that," Pecora said.
Frazier, too, expressed confidence in the future success of the program.
"I know the program is going to change around," he said. "Although I will not be here, I'll still be a part of the team. I'm leaving Fordham but Fordham will never leave me.
"I know coach is going to make things better here. When they start winning I know I'll be a part of that."
That drew an immediate response from Pecora, who said that Frazier will be "a big part of it."
Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.
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