CHAMPAIGN — Rodnell Frazier doesn’t remember the exact circumstances of when his oldest son first beat him 1-on-1.
How a teenage Trent Frazier took down his dad, though, has stuck with the elder Frazier to this day.
“He made seven threes in a row,” Rodnell Frazier said with a laugh. “We were going to 21, and he made seven threes in a row. I scored the first two points, but after I missed, I didn’t get the ball back.
“Even though I was beating him up, he’d still find ways to beat me. That’s when I knew how good he was going to be. I taught him all the tricks and trades, and then he used it against me.”
Torching his dad from three-point range was just the start for Trent Frazier. His basketball growth started in the Florida sun and at Ezell Hester Community Center in nearby Boynton Beach. Meaningful time he spent with his dad, who first put a basketball in his hands.
“That’s when I really started to have passion for basketball when my dad started coaching me at the rec center,” Frazier said. “We used to train every day in front of the house — go hours just being outside in the sun working. That’s my inspiration for basketball is my dad. He never got the chance to play college basketball or continue and fulfill his dreams. That’s what I’m doing.”
Frazier will hit another basketball milestone at 6 p.m. Thursday when No. 5 Illinois (16-6, 12-4 Big Ten) faces Nebraska (5-16, 1-13) at State Farm Center. It’s Senior Night for the Illini and potentially the last time the Wellington, Fla., native will step on Lou Henson Court.
Frazier hasn’t given the possibility of a bonus senior season much thought. He’s stayed in the moment, focusing on this season. But it’s an option. The 2020-21 season won’t count toward any players’ eligibility because of COVID-19.
But if this is, in fact, it for Frazier, his Illinois career will be defined by an ever-evolving role. Frazier arrived in Champaign playing with what he called “ultimate confidence” on a young team. The 6-foot-1 freshman had to score for a team that struggled to generate much consistent offense.
Frazier’s role changed when Ayo Dosunmu made it to Champaign. And again when Kofi Cockburn was added to the equation. So Frazier embraced his inner defensive stopper, a transformation to his game that has been well-chronicled.
“Growing up, he was always telling me he hated defense, but to see how much he has grown and to take that leadership every night to guard the best player is special,” Rodnell Frazier said. “He could always score the ball. Scoring wasn’t a problem, but I always told him to play at that type of level you have to play both ways — period.”
The last month, though, Frazier has found a balance between taking defense personally and tapping back into his offensive skill set. Dosunmu kind of took him to task in practice. It was time for “No hesitation Trent” to make a comeback.
Have a shot? Take the shot.
Frazier’s received the same message from the Illinois coaching staff, too.
“We’ve not had any conversations,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We just scream at him every time he turns down a shot. Trent walks the fine line between wanting to be an unbelievable teammate — knowing that he can drive it, knowing that he can be a setup guy — yet knowing he’s one of the most capable scorers in this league. He fights that within himself sometimes.
“I, as a coach, want him to shoot the doggone ball every single time he’s open because we’ve all seen those heaters and those burners he can get on. Yet, he’s such a great teammate, and I respect the heck out of that.”
Even Frazier’s dad is on board with a little more shot-hunting. The message the past two seasons in the daily or every-other-day phone calls between father and son might have focused on defense, but not so much these days. Rodnell doesn’t mind when opposing Big Ten teams get a taste of what he experienced in the driveway and at the rec center.
“I just say, ‘Listen, play defense and set the tone, but eventually you’re going to have to shoot your shot,’” said Rodnell, who’s a fan of Dosunmu’s new nickname for his son. “He got so locked in with defense. I told him, ‘This is your last year, this is your last run. Have fun with your teammates.’ Don’t get it wrong. I love him playing defense, but I definitely need him to score the ball, and he knows he can score it.”
And so he has. Frazier is coming off a 22-point performance, where he knocked down 4 of 8 three-pointers, in Tuesday night’s 81-72 loss at Michigan State. Frazier has hit double figures in six of his last eight games, is averaging 15 points in that span and shooting 47.9 percent from three-point range. It’s his best stretch offensively this season by a fair margin.
Not that anyone is surprised. Wellington High School basketball coach Matt Colin sure isn’t. Frazier finished his high school career as Wellington’s all-time leading scorer with 1,742 points in three seasons and holds the Wolverines’ record with a 52-point game. He averaged 27.6 points as a senior and was Florida’s Mr. Basketball runner-up behind Kevin Knox, who spent a one-and-done season at Kentucky before the New York Knicks drafted him in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft.
“When he’s shooting with confidence, like he is right now, he’s special,” Colin said. “I love the fact he’s not hesitating. I shoot him text messages all the time and have throughout his whole career about being aggressive and looking for his shot when those right moments are.
“You’re seeing it now. When he’s ready to go, he’s tough to stop. Especially, gosh, when he hits a few, he’s on fire. The other guys have to find him. … ‘No hesitation Trent’ is a great thing because I think when he does that, good things happen.”
The only downside to Frazier’s run in the last month — and his senior season as a whole — is his family didn’t get to see any of it in person. They usually made an annual trip, en masse, to Champaign. Sometimes stayed at least a week and caught a couple games in person.
The reality of a college basketball season played in a pandemic meant no trip in 2020-21. No Senior Night moment for Frazier and his family together in Champaign.
“It’s definitely a bummer,” Frazier said. “I wish my family could be a part of that. I just see it as there’s going to be more opportunities for them to be a part of those moments when I’m playing basketball after this. I don’t look at it to be sad or upset.”
The Frazier family’s annual trip to Champaign this season was planned for Senior Night.
That option off the table, Rodnell said the family’s support hasn’t changed. It’s game day phone calls to wish him luck and tuning in for every game from afar.
“Just support them as best we can,” Rodnell said. “I’m proud of him. Everybody’s proud of him. He came a long way — especially from his freshman year where he had to go through everything with the coaching change. He stuck it out, stayed with it and he’s had a wonderful four years in college.
“The good thing about it, and I tell him all the time, I’m just blessed to see him get a degree. Plain and simple. It’s bigger than basketball. He loves the game, but me as a dad, I’m blessed to see him come back with a degree.”