UNIVERSITY PARK — The months of rehab, drills, coaching and observing from the sidelines were over for Tim Frazier, but he still was not completely sure.
In the second game of Penn State’s summer European Tour, the point guard repeatedly drove the lane, taking blow after blow. Once the game was over, Frazier said his left Achilles tendon did not bother him.
That’s when he knew.
“We were down, playing against grown men, and I took a lot of hits,” Frazier said. “I was making a lot of ‘and-one’s,’ I was getting hit and falling down. I used my change of speed. After that game, after playing that many minutes, I felt no pain. That was the thing I was still conscious about, ‘Am I going to have pain afterward.’ But no pain after that, and from there on out, I was kind of just like ‘I’m back. I got nothing to worry about.’”
Nearly a year removed from tearing his Achilles on an awkward play in just the Nittany Lions’ fourth game of last season, the All-Big Ten guard is indeed back for his fifth season in blue and white.
Frazier and the rest of the Nittany Lions play Northwood on Nov. 3 in an exhibition game, then open the season Nov. 9 against Wagner. Both games are at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Frazier not only feels fully healthy, but the 6-foot-1 speedster said he’s even more explosive than he was at this time last year. Head coach Patrick Chambers even noted Frazier’s vertical leap has gone up half an inch to 35 1/2 inches.
“You would never have known he tore his Achillies,” said junior guard and Frazier’s roommate D.J. Newbill. “Tim, he’s a freak athlete. Before he was even fully back, when he could only do certain things with us, you could see the speed. He’s back to being regular Tim Frazier.”
Sure, Frazier had to spend a season on a motorized scooter, crutches and the sideline, but to say it was a wasted campaign would be inaccurate. Frazier was on the bench every game dressed in a suit, chirping in players’ ears during timeouts. Chambers called it like having another assistant coach, and Frazier said he was the “middle man” between players and the coaching staff sometimes.
Losing Frazier — who averaged 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game two seasons ago (all team highs) — was an enormous blow for Penn State on the court, but Chambers said Frazier’s basketball IQ is “off the charts.” The coach will often catch the Houston native watching film on his own, and Chambers said Frazier has a desire to learn everything he can about his teammates.
“He’s also aware of everyone around him now, which is very new for him. It’s great,” Chambers said. “In this generation today, you’re really just worried about you. I’m not blaming anybody, it’s nobody’s fault. It’s the Twitter, the Instagram, it’s all that stuff. It’s really self-absorbed. But he has that understanding of who are these guys around me and everything that goes on in this program.”
While he tried to aid the team as much as he could in the circumstances, Frazier still had the months of rehabilitation on the treadmill, in the pool and in the weight room. For inspiration, Chambers and Frazier hung a picture of Adrian Peterson in his locker shortly after the injury. The Minnesota Vikings running back returned from a torn ACL to win the NFL’s MVP award in 2012 and nearly set the single-season rushing record.
Frazier always had the mindset of not just coming back to the court, but coming back a better player.
“I feel great about my body and my speed and my jumping ability right now. I feel great about it,” Frazier said.
The injury, which occurred 11 months ago Friday, didn’t look like much initially, and Frazier limped to the sideline during a game against Akron in Puerto Rico. A few months after the injury, however, Frazier first caught the clip when he was featured on the Big Ten Network’s “The Journey,” and said he hasn’t minded watching it since.
“When I’m down, why not watch it?” Frazier said. “Why not have that reminder of what took you out for a year and motivated me all year? I used to talk about that date, November 18, all the time, too.”
With a healthy Frazier back and Newbill shifting to his natural shooting guard role, the Lions boast what could be one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten. Chambers said he expects Frazier — who set the single-season school record in assists with 198 two years ago — to be more of a distributor with Newbill doing more scoring.
Frazier said he is perfectly happy in that role, but as he proved in Europe, he still has his scoring instinct. Just don’t expect any flashy dunks from him.
“I’ve kind of gotten old now to where I don’t do the trick dunks anymore,” Frazier joked. “I’ll save that for the young people. I just know if the time is right, if I need to dunk it, I’ll dunk it. I’ve got my years under my belt, why not save my legs for when the time is needed.”