As Tim Frazier sat in anticipation to hear his named called in the Bryce Jordan Center for the first time in nearly a year, the scoreboard video monitor flashed to a prerecorded message the All-Big Ten point guard had. His statement was simple.
“I’m baaack,” he proclaimed before flashing a smile.
Penn State’s four other starters were introduced, leaving Frazier alone on the bench. It’s the same sideline where he spent most of last season in a suit and walking boot, playing the role of “coach” and making the most of a torn Achilles tendon as he could. Then came the words Frazier and every basketball fan in Happy Valley have waited to hear again.
“A 6-foot-1 senior from Houston, Texas, Tim Frazier!”
Off the bench hopped Frazier, telling teammates “it’s time to eat.” Frazier has a repaired left Achilles, improved teammates around him and another season in blue and white.
This was the scene when Penn State downed NAIA opponent Northwood (Fla.) in an exhibition game last Sunday. It was Frazier’s first semi-official run on his home hardwood since the injury cut his 2012-13 campaign to four games. Frazier and the Nittany Lions will launch year three of the Patrick Chambers era for real when Wagner pays a 4 p.m. Saturday visit to the BJC.
“It’s been a long journey. To be able to put on the uniform, to step out on the court was an amazing feeling,” Frazier said after Sunday’s exhibition. “I had jitters running through my veins, my whole body, the whole game.”
Frazier set the bar high for himself in the 2011-12 campaign when he accounted for 58 percent of Penn State’s offense with 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game. Last season was supposed to be Frazier’s chance to build on his junior year and establish himself as one of the best guards in the Big Ten, but he went down awkwardly on Nov. 18 against Akron and has eyed this date for 51 weeks.
The Houston native said he is 100 percent, and did not appear slowed by the injury in the exhibition game. But his coach pointed out that it will take a few games before Frazier truly finds his rhythm again.
“I said this the other day, he got mad at me but I’m going to say it again, he’s going to be a little rusty,” Chambers said. “He’s got to find his pockets, he’s getting used to a whole new team, playing alongside D.J. (Newbill) and Ross (Travis) and these guys are more talented than they were in the past two years. We instilled that faith and trust and have him comfortable out there.”
Frazier and Newbill — who led the team 16.3 points per game and played point guard last season in Frazier’s absence — will be playing alongside each other for just the fifth official time Saturday, and it’s a combination that is arguably one of the Big Ten’s best backcourts. Prior to last season, Chambers called the duo the best backcourt in the country. He was asked again earlier in the week, but noted he didn’t feel the need to repeat his statement.
“(The media) needs to be saying it, not me,” Chambers said.
With Frazier back, Newbill can shift back to his natural shooting guard position, and Frazier’s presence on the floor will augment Penn State’s transition game, as well as add some open looks for others. It was evident in the scrimmage as Frazier dished out six assists in the first half.
“(Frazier) definitely speeds the game up as far as transition,” said Travis, a junior guard. “With him out there, we’re going to push the ball a lot faster. Last year with D.J. we kind of had to slow it down, but it’s great to have him back.”
Even with Frazier back and with players a year older around him, Penn State is still not considered by many a threat in the Big Ten. The backcourt is sound, but the Lions lack a true big man, and will need large contributions from sophomore forwards Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor if they figure to win more than a handful of games once conference play starts.
Chambers has never been one to worry much about win totals or voice his specific expectations of the team, as was the case at last month’s media day.
“They know what people are saying about them,” Chambers said of his team. “They know what the preseason publications are picking for them. We all see it. But we put it aside, stick to what’s going on in our locker room, in our practice facility, that’s all we’re worried about.”
Chambers has one more season with Frazier at his side, one that has been a year in the making. Frazier’s name will be called last again Saturday and he’ll take the floor for a game that counts.
Penn State basketball has waited for Frazier’s return. Now the program will see.