May 7, 2021

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I don't even know if he likes to be called "Chet". I just always called him Chet. Not to his face, of course. On the internet. On message boards from 2006 to 2009 - mostly IlliniBoard dot com - I referred to Chester Frazier as "Chet". And I was his greatest defender.

I have this thing with effort. It's why I talk about so many walkons at football practice. Those of us on the lazy side of life look over the fence at the carpe diem crew and stare in awe. How do you keep the pedal to the floor ALL the time? Wouldn't that eventually make you run out of gas?

Because I don't understand it, I respect it. I defend it. And there was no more perfect a storm for me than Illinois basketball going from the National Championship game to 16-19 in four seasons combined with the single hardest-working player I've ever seen. Fans at an all-time frustration moment, taking it out on a player giving his all. I was up to the task.

This will not be an article about Chester Frazier, assistant coach. I don't know much about Chester Frazier, assistant coach. I did do some searching yesterday and found out that Virginia Tech fans were enamored with him. A quick snippet from a Virginia Tech blog:

The Virginia Tech Hokies suffered a big loss on the hardwood Thursday when top basketball assistant Chester Frazier left for a similar role at the University of Illinois.

A native of Baltimore, the 35-year-old Frazier came to Virginia Tech in 2019 when Mike Young named him to his initial staff. Before coming to Blacksburg, Frazier spent seven seasons at Kansas State.

Before Hokie fans get too upset about Frazier leaving for a similar role, understand that he played college basketball for the Illini from 2005-09. His first coaching job came at Illinois as a graduate assistant in 2010-11 under his former coach, Bruce Weber. He followed Weber to Kansas State in 2012.

When Young hired his first staff in Blacksburg, Frazier was viewed as a major coup for the Hokies. He lived up to that billing as a tireless recruiter with a strong coaching acumen.

So that's good. But really, I don't know much about Chet the assistant or even Chet the tireless recruiter. I DO know Chet the warrior, though.

Where to start? I guess the first thing I think of is the Tom Izzo quote. Tom Izzo loved him some Chester Frazier. I went searching for some of the quotes and found this one from a Lindsey Willhite blog entry in 2009:

In the moments following Illinois' victory over Michigan State on Tuesday night, veteran Spartans coach Tom Izzo paid Chester Frazier perhaps the highest compliment in his arsenal. "He showed me more guts than anybody I've seen since Mateen Cleaves," said Izzo, referring to the point guard that led Michigan State to the 2000 NCAA Tournament title. "I told him at our place I think he's the toughest player in the league. I told him tonight I think he's the toughest player in the league."

I agreed. Chet was easily the toughest player in the Big Ten. You've seen, I'm sure, his chest bump of Eric Gordon and his stare-down of Kyle Singler. But it was way more than that. Chet was simply the guy in the pickup game who would not let up. The kind where you wanted to tell the guy "bro, it's just a pickup game" but then you realize you're saying that because he's dominating you. Getting mad at someone for jumping to grab the rebound you were standing there waiting for is on you, not him.

One game sticks out in my mind. It was at Michigan State in 2007 or 2008. I think it was 2008. Illinois was sleepwalking through the entire game. It appeared that Michigan State was playing at 98% and Illinois was playing at 73%. All except for one guy: Chester Frazier. It was Michigan State dominating, Michigan State's fans going nuts, the Illinois players with their shoulders slumped, and Chet fighting like hell. There was one sequence where he scored, waited around for the lazy inbounds pass, stole it, made the layup, and (if I remember correctly) Izzo took a timeout. Izzo's team is cruising to an easy victory and one guy is trying to single-handedly put a stop to it.

I remember this game, too. Illinois, ranked and on the road, is leaking oil late. And one guy just won't let us lose:

Chet was not a shooter. For his career he shot 30.3% from three. KenPom's stats were never in love with him. He was never any Illini team's top scoring threat. There's no stats I can find that say "wow, look at what he contributed".

But he contributed so much. If you're on the younger side and you never saw him play, think of Da'Monte last season (without the 58% from three). A whole lot of "how did he get that rebound?" and "we'd be behind by 11 at halftime if it wasn't for Chet" and "can he really guard a guy seven inches taller than him oh hey look at that he can". His senior season he was a 5-5-5 guy: 5.7 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game.

Oh, and he always guarded the other team's best player. Had I started my Twitter account before May 2009 you would have seen a campaign for Chet to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He made the All Defensive Team, but Travis Walton of Michigan State won BTDPOY. I'm still upset about it.

If you want to know how much he mattered to that team, look no further than the final three games. He injured his hand at practice and missed the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. We did beat Michigan in the BTT Quarterfinals two days after he broke his hand, but we lost to Purdue in the semifinals. And then, as a 5-seed, we lost 76-72 to 12-seed Western Kentucky in the first round. Every Illini fan said the same thing: with a healthy Chet, we don't lose that game.

I know a lot of you remember some or all of this. But I feel like it's important to recap Chester Frazier the player before we can start to think about Chester Frazier the coach. Chester Frazier the player? Tough as nails.

If you want some background on that, here's the Paul Klee News-Gazette article from 2007 that I tweeted yesterday. I won't cut and paste any snippets because it's best to read it in its entirety. I just want to point out one section. Because I think it's part of the reason I was/am such a huge Chester Frazier fan.

When Chet was 20 years old, he lost his dad. It was the spring of his sophomore season, three weeks after our loss to Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament. At the time, I wanted to reach out to him, and I still wish that I had. When he was 20 years old and a student at Illinois, Chet lost his dad. When I was 20 years old and a student at Illinois, I lost my dad. I had the idea to send him a note, tell him my experience, let him know I understood how hard it was to face something as simple as "I'm supposed to take all of these finals in two weeks? How?". But I never did, and I'll always regret it. See where my laziness gets me?

When I went to follow Chet on all social media platforms yesterday, I saw this post on his Instagram marking what would have been his fathers' birthday. It's remarkable how much he looks like his dad. That's something I definitely need to tell him some time. It's my favorite thing to hear someone say.

I'm not really headed anywhere with this. I'm totally rambling. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me tweet excited/fainting gifs as my reaction to his hire. I just want you to know that those aren't an opinion. Those aren't "this is a home run hire". I have no idea yet if it's a home run hire because I'm just starting to study his recruiting and player development history.

I'm tweeting those things because he's one of those pantheon athletes at Illinois for me. Got more out of his talent than any Illini player I can remember. Was asked to endure so much (loss of his father, the Jamar Smith accident ended up on his doorstep, the angry fans wondering why the team wasn't getting back to the title game), and he simply used all of it to get better every season. By his senior season, he was one of the more valuable player in college basketball (and a huge reason we were a 5-seed). It still guts me that he couldn't play in that Tournament game. Probably guts him 10 times more.

As an Illini fan (and now Illini fanalyst), I'm drawn to the players who care about this University the way I care about this University. And I can think of no greater example of a player who put his heart and soul into this place than Chester Frazier. I'm not sure how he'll turn out as an assistant coach, but I'm fairly confident that he'll give it more effort and energy than any other assistant coach in the Big Ten.

Indiana can have their Dane Fife "coming home" party and Wisconsin can embrace their Joe Krabbenhoft. It's always great when a former player returns as an assistant.

As for me and my house, give me Chet.


JimmyTheLayup on May 7, 2021 @ 04:29 PM

I remember leading up to the Western Kentucky game thinking that Chet was going to play, because he's Chet; he's the toughest SOB in the country. Not because I'd ever expect anyone to play with a broken hand, but just because that's what we had come to expect from him during his Illini career.

Tolkien73 on May 7, 2021 @ 04:49 PM

Great article, Robert. Thanks for sharing.

Sean on May 7, 2021 @ 05:15 PM

Good stuff.

accy88 on May 7, 2021 @ 08:06 PM

I'm going to award Chester Frazier 5 Tom Cruises! Welcome home Chet!

tvillini on May 7, 2021 @ 08:34 PM

Reading that Klee article, I can't help but think how happy his Dad is right now. That guy sacrificed so much so his kids suffered as little as possible, and now his kid that's making an incredible living on... well I'd say the thing he loves the most... but I'd definitely put it in the Top-5 things he loves the most. I can't imagine a thing any Dad would want more for their kid.

ktcesw on May 7, 2021 @ 09:46 PM

Love everything that you had to say here! Also loved the Klee article! Thanks for both!!

Joe Edge on May 8, 2021 @ 03:02 PM

Great piece Robert... Well done.

BanTheCharge on May 10, 2021 @ 10:37 AM

Thoroughly enjoyed this

Excited to see what the future holds

TRC on May 10, 2021 @ 01:50 PM

We are SO much the same fan. I have seen all the super stars who have worn orange and blue since the early 80's, but guys like "Chet", Trent, Damir Krupalijia, Georgie B and Robert Archibald always have a place in my heart above all because they gave every ounce of themselves.

mmyers74 on May 12, 2021 @ 07:00 PM

Great piece. This is the stuff I tune in for.

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