Frazier 'the focal point' for Illini

Frazier 'the focal point' for Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Trent Frazier vocalized one of his 2018-19 season goals on Monday. Now Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood is going to hold the sophomore guard to it.

"I'm just going to put it out there because we're all going to hold him accountable to it now because he said it," Underwood said. "He said, 'I want to be All-Defensive Team in the Big Ten.' A year ago, that was far, far, far from anything in Trent's mindset. We've seen tremendous growth."

Frazier did lead all Big Ten freshmen in steals a year ago, and he was one of just five freshmen nationally to lead his team in assists, steals and three-pointers. So just add a full-on defensive breakout to the responsibilities stacked on Frazier's shoulders as Illinois' season officially starts with today's 7 p.m. tipoff against Evansville at State Farm Center.

"He knows it's not all about him, but he knows he's the focal point," Underwood said.

"He gets it. We're starting to see him be much more assertive in practice vocally. Trent never gets tired. Trent always goes. Now when we see that vocal piece come into pay, that's a good thing."

That leadership role is one Frazier is embracing. The 6-foot guard opened last Friday's exhibition game scoring eight of Illinois' first 14 points, and he had 13 points by halftime.

Then Frazier turned his focus to getting his teammates more involved. He finished with a team-high five assists to go with his 19-point scoring effort against Illinois Wesleyan.

"I think I'm more aggressive on offense this year," Frazier said. "I try to get going early in the game so I can get my guys involved. ... Being a leader, I think I have that role this year. I'm way more vocal this year in practice. I'm getting after it with guys.

"I'm still learning — I don't know everything — but I'm more vocal with the young guys. They ask me questions. I put them in the right spot. We're still learning right now. This system isn't easy, but we're going to get it."

Frazier's name will be at the top of many an opposing scouting report. That's what happens when you're a team's top returning scorer and proved an ability to take over games as a true freshman. Balancing being a go-to offensive option in his own right with getting his teammates involved is one of Frazier's challenge during his sophomore season.

"The one thing with Trent is you don't want to corral his aggressiveness," Underwood said. "You've got to mesh the flow of the game with that and understand the other team, defensively, is probably going to scheme him. That's when he's got to make other players better. That's going to be a feel thing for him."

Underwood said he had no problem with how Frazier attacked Illinois' exhibition game.

"I think that was a sense of comfort for all of our guys," Underwood said. "Seeing, 'OK, here's the All-Big Ten guy getting his game off.' "

Frazier said he's had several conversations with Underwood about being the player opposing teams will try to scheme first — and probably the most — defensively. Being able to make plays for his teammates, he said, helps open up his own game.

"My focus is not forcing anything and letting my game come to me," Frazier said. "I think I can score any time I want. Getting my teammates involved early, I think that will open up shots for me. ... I'm shooting the ball incredibly fine right now. I have a lot of confidence. When I'm out there playing, I'm very comfortable. It helps me be better and focused in the game."

-