Slump helped Frazier expand his game

In Prague and on the big summer stage of the FIBA World Championships, Michael Frazier’s sweet shot turned lemon sour. There was a time when Frazier might have shriveled up and disappeared but that was the old have gun, will travel Frazier who became a prize Florida recruit because he could knock down shots in his sleep. The new and improved version used newfound skills to make lemonade.

Always a better than average rebounder for his 6-4 frame – he averaged 8.0 per game as a senior at Montverde Academy and 3.1 in 17.9 minutes per game as a Florida freshman – Frazier got most of his minutes at small forward where he helped Team USA coached by Billy Donovan win the gold medal with a perfect 6-0 record. Not exactly known for his defense in the past, Frazier became a lockdown guy on a team that didn’t give up uncontested shots.

That something other than his shooting could turn games around came as a bit of a surprise, but, then again, having his shot go south was the biggest surprise of all.

“Last year [at Florida] I really didn’t have a shooting slump,” Frazier said Thursday afternoon. He hit an almost unheard of 46.8% from the three-point line as a Gator freshman, best ever for a first-year player and the fourth best single season total for any Florida player who launched more than 100 shots from beyond the arc. Lee Humphrey, who set NCAA Tournament three-point shooting records at Florida while helping the Gators win back-to-back national championships in 2006-07, never hit better than 45.9 percent in a season.

It was see the ball, be the ball for Frazier.

“When I look back, I didn’t really hit that freshman wall as far as shooting the ball,” Frazier said.

Then came Prague. The main reason Frazier was on the team was because he could pick apart a zone, something Donovan knew he would see a lot from the European teams at FIBA. The shot worked just fine in Colorado Springs when Donovan put the team together with input from Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. In Prague, Frazier couldn’t throw it in the ocean standing on the end of the pier.

For a guy who rarely experienced bad shooting days, this was serious stuff. What was wrong? Why was he missing? Was it something mechanical? Had he altered his own shot? It certainly wasn’t the defense. He was missing the kind of wide open shots that he never used to miss?

What the heck was going on?

“I think in talking to my coaches who were there with me, they were saying I was thinking about it too much,” Frazier said. “I was thinking about the last shot instead of just clearing my mind and thinking about the next shot, thinking about the shot that I’m shooting and instead of not being in the moment.”

Fortunately, there was no carryover onto the other end of the floor. Frazier proved to be a reliable rebounder and on a team that turned every possession by the other team into a war, he became one of the most reliable defenders.

“I was really proud of him the way he grew as a player in Prague,” Donovan said Wednesday night in Ocala when he spoke at the Augie Greiner/Ocala Tipoff Club scholarship banquet. “He started hitting some shots there at the end but those first few games he was missing shots he always makes. To his credit, he didn’t let the shooting affect the other things he needed to do to help the team.”

It was the worst shooting slump of his basketball career, but it proved to be just the right kind of adversity for Frazier. He struggled; he self-evaluated; he made a decision about what he needed to do; then set about compensating for the deficiencies.

And along the way, he became a better player.

“It made me stronger seeing that I could do other things that could impact the game and help my team so I think that really in the long run helped me,” Frazier recalled.

It is that ability to move on to the next play and impact the game at the other end of the floor that Donovan wants to see from all his players and not just Frazier this year. It’s a team mentality that Donovan called “fractured” when he talked about it Friday.

Last season’s team, Donovan says, was fractured.

“I don’t mean fractured in terms of guys finger-pointing, but Scottie (Wilbekin) turns the ball over and he’s consumed with the turnover,” Donovan said. “He’s down and he’s disappointed with himself and he’s consumed with that play. Another guy missed a little short jump hook in the lane or a layup and he’s consumed with that play. Before you know it you’ve got guys that are all kind of involved in their own little world.

“When you’re in that situation and something doesn’t go well for you or is a struggle for you, the more introverted you get, the more you get self-reflective in that moment in time you miss the opportunity to move to the next play.”

Frazier learned how to do that during the summer. It’s something he knows the Gators will have to do this year to have the kind of season they are capable of producing.

“If we mess up offensively or defensively just coming back the next time and being like, it’s over, let’s get a stop or let’s get a score,” Frazier said. “As a team we can all get better at it.”

WEEKEND NOTES: The Gators will be traveling up to Valdosta, Georgia to scrimmage Georgia Tech Saturday (2 p.m.) …  Will Yeguete (knee) and Dillon Graham (sprained ankle) are out for the scrimmage but everyone else is expected to play including Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who Donovan hopes can play in short bursts, his first substantial action on the court since he broke his leg last February while playing at Rutgers … Dorian Finney-Smith, who turned his ankle over at Wednesday’s practice, is expected to play as are Damontre Harris and Casey Prather, who have been batting through some hamstring issues.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.