NORMAN, Okla. — The Oklahoma basketball team is having its best season in years and a trip to the NCAA tournament is a real possibility.
Pretty amazing, considering OU’s most-productive player is on the bench. Forget the scoring and rebounding and don’t check the court. He’s not out there.
Check the Klout instead.
James Fraschilla is a walk-on and you can find him at the end of the bench, just 5-foot-10 but with a better reach than 4G. His trick shot videos have gone viral and his guitar playing is virtual. Together they have made Fraschilla pretty popular, very recognizable and into an Internet star.
Expect it all to continue. The Sooners are 13-5 and part of the “Bracketology” discussion, while the sophomore from Dallas is going all www.
“I don’t see lit like that,” Fraschilla said. “But I do like to put stuff out there. Whether it’s the trick shot videos or air guitar or anything else. I’m not looking for attention but I do like putting my work on display and getting the program some notice. It’s nice to see people recognize it.”
Most recently, Fraschilla was seen performing a routine perfect for the National Air Guitar Championships during a win over Texas. His strumming at the end of the bench was more Pete Townsend than Pistol Pete gaining him YouTube and highlight show fame.
“I checked my phone after the game and there was like 40 Twitter messages and a bunch of people were talking about it and texting me,” Fraschilla said. “The next day it was on the internet.”
Not like he hasn’t been there before.
The guitar playing is just the next thing. Previously, and more importantly, Fraschilla made a pair of videos benefitting the charity Hayden’s Hope, which brings awareness to organ transplants for children, founded by ESPN personality and Oklahoma graduate Dari Nowkhah. Fraschilla produces, edits and stars in the part circus, part amazing videos where he makes all sorts of basketball shots over all sorts of obstacles.
The result has been almost 100,000 views, countless dollars raised for the charity and a small degree of celebrity for Fraschilla, who happens to be the son of former coach, and now ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla.
“I thought it could catch on and go viral and I thought it would be cool if I attached a cause to it and get the word out,” James Fraschilla said. “I got to help that organization by getting it 10s of thousands of views. Now I’ve gotten emails from people all over, from people who have donated to Hayden’s Hope. That makes you feel good.”
Fraschilla features more than 1,700 followers on his Twitter feed @jamesfraschilla — not bad for a guy who has yet to play a meaningful minute for the Sooners — and is a proud member of “Club Trillion,” a group of basketball benchwarmers dedicated to the art of lack of playing time and earning a boxscore’s worth of zeroes after their name.
None of it by accident.
Fraschilla admits stealing the guitar riffs from his friend Rem Bakamus, who plays his tunes at the end of the Gonzaga University Bench, and admits it was his connection through his father, OU and Nowkhah that led him to the Hayden’s Hope idea.
All of it because Fraschilla says he has a voice.
“One of the things I told myself I wanted to do if I got a following because of being a college athlete, is raise awareness,” Fraschilla said. “You only have so long, and I’d like to make sure to use it wisely.”
So far, he’s not just using his minor celebrity wisely, he’s actually winning at the Internet.
“On this team, definitely,” said junior forward Amath M’Baye. “You know he loves the stuff. He’s the best walk-on in the country and brings a little of everything. A fighter in practice, a joker and makes everyone laugh. Everything he invests in, he’s good at it.”
And it’s paid off through Twitter, YouTube and beyond.
“A lot of students I don’t know talk to me and that’s always fun,” Fraschilla said. “It’s a taste of being a celebrity on a small, small scale. It’s fun. Twitter is a great way to connect with people, fans and friends. I try to keep it entertaining and share my random A.D.D. thoughts. I want people to see what I have to say, but I don’t want to fill their timeline. I try to keep it entertaining.”
It’s working so far. Up next? Aside from playing time, that is.
“All of this stuff has gone beyond what I ever thought,” Fraschilla said. “People seem to like what I’ve been doing. I never expected any of that. It’s a cool experience, just the whole opportunity. Getting more followers is cool, but that’s a material thing. I just try to be myself and share my thoughts. It’s great if people like what I have to say.”