ROSEMONT, Ill. — If Tim Frazier played at a Duke or a Kansas, his status as one of the best point guards in college basketball would not be in doubt. If he played at a small-conference power that occasionally made the NCAA Tournament (see C.J. McCollum at Lehigh), perhaps a nation would already be familiar with his tremendous skill set.
Frazier, of course, does not play for any of these schools. The Penn State senior plays for a team about as far from the public consciousness as possible on the college basketball spectrum.
And the reason is simple: Winning. Or, more specifically, a lack of winning.
“At Penn State, he’s the man,” Nittany Lions basketball coach Patrick Chambers said during Big Ten media day. “You hate to say that, but he’s the man. At home, he’s great. Nationally, he needs to get a little bit more notoriety. You’ve got to win.”
Last season, Frazier put together one of the great seasons in all of college basketball while playing on a team that finished 12-20 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten — tied for last place in the conference. He led his team in scoring (18.8 points), assists per game (6.2), rebounds (4.7) and steals (2.4). Because he possessed such talent — and because Penn State was devoid of much talent — he also took 203 shots more than anybody else on the team, calling to mind Allen Iverson with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“He has the green light,” Iowa guard Roy Devyn Marble said. “It’s really difficult to guard a guy like that. He’s quick, little. He has a really good handle. And he’s not selfish. A lot of people think he’s selfish. He averaged like seven assists last year. So he still gets his teammates involved.
“If he’s not the best point guard in the Big Ten, he’s up there.”
Those who suggest Frazier, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from Houston, Texas, wouldn’t put up the same type of gaudy statistics if he played for a better team may be right. But keep this in mind: Frazier led the Big Ten in assists despite playing for a Penn State team that was the worst shooting group in the conference (39.3 percent).
Frazier was the only Division I player in the country last season to average at least 17 points and six assists per game. He accounted for 58 percent of Penn State’s offense on points or assists, a mark that led the nation.
For his part, Frazier isn’t satisfied with his place in college basketball and, more importantly, Penn State’s status as a conference cellar dweller.
“I think the most difficult thing about last season was just not winning,” Frazier said. “I love to win. Our record didn’t show how hard we played. From top to bottom, we have a team that just plays hard. We were very disappointed and had a bitter taste in our mouth at the end of the season. I think we’re going to be ready to go this season.”
Last week, Frazier earned all-Big Ten preseason honors, becoming the only man on the list not playing for a top-five team in the country. Chambers, in his second season at Penn State, has tried to encourage Frazier to become a better leader both on and off the court despite the pressures to succeed individually.
“We’ve spent a lot of time one on one,” Frazier said. “Obviously, he’s a great leader from just hearing him talk and what he does around campus. I’ve been trying to go do the same things that he’s done as far as leading our team. He’s definitely helped me out tremendously.”
In order to prepare for his final season, Frazier stayed on campus for nearly the entire summer. He enrolled in one class each during both summer sessions to help fulfill his major as a supply chain business manager.
When he wasn’t in class, he was in the gym working on everything from floaters to free throws to ball handling to 3-point shooting — yes, especially 3-point shooting.
While Frazier shot a respectable 41.9 percent from the field last season, he made just 31.4 percent of his 3-point tries (27 of 86).
“I worked on my 3, the deep ball this summer,” Frazier said. “That was something that guys would go under me on ball screens. I spent a tremendous amount of time on that.”
Chambers has seen enough during the early portion of practices to know Frazier is a different long-range shooter now.
“I think we all know he needs to work on his jump shot, and he’s done that,” Chambers said. “In practice so far, he’s shooting his threes at a high clip, which is great for us. It almost makes him un-guardable.”
It’s difficult to determine what kind of statistical leap Frazier might make this season. As a sophomore behind then-senior guard Taylor Battle, Frazier averaged 6.3 points, 5.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds. He also took 367 fewer shots than Battle. But once Battle left, Penn State’s team belonged to Frazier.
This season, Frazier will have some help on offense. Forward D.J. Newbell, a Southern Mississippi transfer, averaged 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Golden Eagles as a freshman. Forward Jermaine Marshall also is expected to produce a big season for the Nittany Lions. He was the only other Penn State player to average in double figures in points last season (10.8).
“We all know Tim is a great player,” Newbell said. “He’s a great leader, too. He doesn’t complain about the big load, he just embraces it. I think that’s a compliment to his character. He’s definitely a key player to this team. We need him just as much as he needs us.”
Players at Penn State certainly understand Frazier’s value to the team. And as the season begins, Chambers has imparted a simple message to his star guard: Start winning, and the national recognition will come.
“If you win 16, 17 games, and you win seven or eight games in the Big Ten, people are going to know,” Chambers said. “You have a lot to do with it.”