CHAMPAIGN — Trent Frazier went right back to work after Illinois men’s basketball lost at home to Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last week.
The Illini junior guard got together with graduate manager Kwa Jones and went through every play of that 81-79 victory by the Hurricanes at State Farm Center.
At 1:30 a.m. With regular texts to Illinois coach Brad Underwood.
“He wants to see how to correct his mistakes,” Underwood said. “That development with Trent has been light years. He didn’t think about anything but getting a bucket his first year here, and if he didn’t get a bucket, he didn’t guard.
“Now we’ve got that full-fledged, all-around player. He wants to know how Michigan, our next opponent, is guarding ball screens and where his opportunities come.”
Frazier will have another difficult two-way challenge when Illinois (6-3, 0-1 Big Ten) faces No. 5 Michigan (8-1, 1-0) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at State Farm Center. The 6-foot-2 lefty guard is the Illini’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 10.6 points, but still capable of a big night offensively and is only 67 points away from becoming the 50th Illini to reach 1,000 career points at Illinois. Frazier will also draw Wolverines’ point guard and Big Ten assists leader Zavier Simpson as his primary defensive assignment.
The latter objective is where Frazier has turned his focus this season.
“I think the biggest transition for me and where I’ve grown is my defense,” Frazier said. “Guys may score, but I’m a competitive player on the defensive end. I’m locked in. I try to bring that energy and have that mindset of one stop. One shot every possession. One tough shot. We set goals for kills every night — as many as we can get. It starts on the defensive end. That’s really my biggest thing.”
Frazier’s parents, Rodnell Frazier and Tineal Gomez, have seen that from him this season. At least on TV. Wednesday’s game will be the first time they’ve seen their son play in person since his freshman year.
“They’ll be here the whole week,” Frazier said, meaning his parents will also be on hand for Saturday’s 5 p.m. home game against Old Dominion. “They haven’t watched me play in person in a long time. I’m just grateful for that. It’s a blessing and great opportunity to have them back in Champaign.”
Not that Frazier and his dad don’t have regular discussion on the phone. Try every night after every Illinois game. Turns out Rodnell Frazier is stressing defense just as much for his son as the Illini coaches.
“He loves this game,” Frazier said of his dad. “He watches it because of me, and I play it because of him. He calls me every night after a game. He doesn’t even talk about my offense. He talks about how proud he is of me and my defense and how I’ve grown in that area.
“Just me guarding the best players every night and getting after them. I love that from my father, recognizing that it’s not all about offense. Playing defense. Getting after the ball. Doing the little things. That’s what it takes to win.”
Frazier’s approach and maturity in preparation and execution is rubbing off on his teammates. Freshman center Kofi Cockburn said it motivates him to put in the extra work and correct his mistakes.
“Every time I see him, I call him a machine,” Cockburn said. “I think he’s a machine. He’s just that energy guy that’s going to play his hardest on defense, and he can shoot the ball really good at a high level. He’s been great for us. I just want him to continue doing that, keep pushing us. He’s been a great leader, too. He stepped up and took on that role, too.”
While Frazier might be putting more emphasis on his defensive play, his inner scorer lurks. He’s had that since the third grade when his dad enrolled him in a rec league and coached him.
“That’s how I became a scorer,” Frazier said. “I shot all the balls and never came out. It was a fun time.”
Frazier is picking his spots offensively with a little more care this season. He knows he can score. The Illinois coaches know it, too.
Making the right play means more to him, though, whether that’s shooting it himself or finding an open teammate. A deeper Illinois team has also changed Frazier’s role on the offensive end.
“His first year it was him and Leron (Black), and he had to be that guy,” Underwood said. “It means we’ve got a better team. It means we’ve got better parts.”
Underwood isn’t opposed to Frazier tapping into that inner scorer a little more. He said Tuesday that getting Frazier more looks in late-game situations was something he wanted.
“They talk to me about it being more aggressive, but I just have the mindset of making the right play, either for me or my teammates,” Frazier said. “I know what I can do. ... But I’ve got to be more conscious of that, when it gets late game, just being aggressive.”