Frazier blazes the trail for Illini

Frazier blazes the trail for Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Trent Frazier's leadership was more by action than words during the 2017-18 season. The then-freshman point guard wasn't always vocal, but the way he played — leading all Big Ten freshmen in scoring, assists, steals and three-pointers — proved what he was capable of on the court.

Frazier's goal this offseason? Assume that leadership role for real. He might still just be a sophomore, but as the leading returning scorer on a team with six freshmen, eight total newcomers and only four upperclassmen total, the 6-foot-1 guard will have some serious responsibilities.

"Last year I guess I was afraid to talk, to be more vocal," Frazier said. "Everyone wanted to do their own thing. I didn't know what was right or what was wrong. Being back and being more veteran, I think I know what to do."

The few returning players following a rush of offseason departures have begun to form a more cohesive unit. Frazier likened it to being more of a family, as the Illini continue to build the culture coach Brad Underwood wants.

"When things weren't going right, I think we tended to go our separate ways and just be mad about each other," Frazier said about last year's team. "I think this group we have right here, they all want to win. In practice we go after it and fight a lot, but we all stick together.

"They guys that came back — who stayed and wanted to be a part of this family — I think that really helped us a lot. We needed that."

Frazier understands he has to lead this team. He said assistant coach Jamall Walker consistently talks to him about doing the right thing on and off the court because the youngest players on the Illini roster look up to him. Even though the Florida native is only 19 years old.

"Being back as a veteran sophomore, I think that's one of the biggest things — just being more vocal and getting these guys along," Frazier said. "Showing them the way to win basketball games. Last year, a lot of the games we lost were close. That's what we're trying to stay away from this year. We want to win this year."

The infusion of freshmen could help Illinois achieve that goal. They're a fit with the small group of returning players they joined this summer.

"They all have similar characteristics," Frazier said. "They want to win. Coach Underwood, he brought in a lot of guys that want to win. Those freshmen are unbelievable. I'm very excited to play with them."

Frazier has spent the last month going head to head with five-star freshman Ayo Dosunmu. They regularly square off in workouts and open gym sessions, testing and challenging each other. Frazier said it's already made them both better for it.

"We always get after it — we talk smack with each other — but at the end of the day we're brothers," Frazier said. "We've gotten a lot closer in just one month. It's unbelievable. He's one of the great guys I talk to a lot about what we're going to do this year. This backcourt is going to be unbelievable.

"He's a very competitive guy. He likes to guard me every time because he wants to get me better. I like when he guards me because he's a great defensive player. He makes me work on my game, and I make him work on his game. We learn a lot from each other."

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5605, by email at srichey@news-gazette.com and on Twitter@srrichey.

Fantastic freshmen

Trent Frazier worked his way into the Illinois record book in 2017-18. Here's where he falls among the Illini's top freshmen scorers:

PLAYER, PPG, YEAR

1. Kiwane Garris (right) 15.9 1993-94

2. Cory Bradford 15.4 1998-99

3. Deon Thomas 15.1 1990-91

4. Trent Frazier 12.5 2017-18

5. Efrem Winters 12.4 1982-83

6. Dee Brown 12.0 2002-03

7. Mark Smith 11.6 1977-78

8. Frank Williams 11.4 1999-00

9. D.J. Richardson 10.5 2009-10

10. Jalen Coleman-Lands 10.3 2015-16