Channing Frye came to Arizona with no hype and no reputation.
He leaves as one of the best big men in school history.
He leaves as a Lottery Pick. Sadly, he has also been maligned for much of his career. Despite the scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, fans wanted a banger. Despite the wins, the leadership and the great character, the fans wanted more.
Frye came in with no hype and in the end couldn't live up to the expectations.
Frye was the first player to commit in the class and never got much hype. He was a fringe top-100 player, based mainly on the fact that Arizona offered a scholarship.
Despite being one of the best players in Phoenix, ASU did not seriously pursue him. All Frye did was go 8-0 against the Sun Devils.
He came on campus with two other big men and had the unenviable task of trying to replace Loren Woods, Michael Wright, Gene Edgerson and Justin Wessel. Dennis Latimore and Isaiah Fox had more hype. Redshirt Andrew Zahn had a better reputation. Many observers assumed the skinny Frye would redshirt.
That's right. Fans thought Andrew Zahn would see more time than Frye.
All Frye did that season was start 25 games, average 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. He added 50 blocks.
Four years later he had added 50 pounds of muscle, 100 wins and is in the top-10 in scoring, top-three in rebounding and trails only Anthony Cook in blocked shots.
Oh, yeah, Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas made him the eighth pick in the NBA Draft.
"If he stays four years he will leave as the best big man we've ever had," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said in 2003.
That view did not change two years later.
"Show me a better big man," requested Josh Pastner, Frye's position coach and a former Wildcat player. "I've played with some great guys and coached others and Channing is as good as any of them."
In 2001-02 he was a skinny kid whose claim to fame was that he bore a strong resemblance to former Wildcat Sean Elliott.
By 2005 he was the highest drafted Wildcat big man in the Lute Olson era. That's right, he went higher than Woods, higher than Wright. He went higher than Brian Williams, who went 10th in 1991.
"You have to take lemons and make lemonade, my grandma always says," Frye said. "That happens in life. Just because I blossomed later in life, that is an opportunity I got here and I took advantage of it. It kind of made me the humble person I am today and I don't take anything for granted."
Sadly, Frye may be one of the most maligned players since Ed Stokes. He exceeded expectations as a freshman, then could not live up to them later on in his career. He weighed less than Lute Olson did when he came into the program and worked hard to add enough muscle to take a beating, but he never became the bruiser fans wanted. After that great freshman season fans wanted him to be Michael Wright mixed with Loren Woods. They wanted him to bang like Edgerson, but run like Gilbert Arenas.
They wanted their cake and to eat it too.
Frye was seen as soft. Never mind that he once played a game with a broken bone in his face and had to have his teeth shoved back into his gums a week later. No, fans wanted to sit him because a 300-pounder would push him around.
Never mind he never had the luxury of a physical player next to him. Never mind he was a tougher inside player than Fox or Latimore, two athletes better built to bang inside. Frankly, the fans wanted Frye to be something he was not.
"People are always going to label you and try to compare you to someone else," Frye noted. "That's just motivation to go out there and try to be the person they compare you to. They compare Kirk to me because we are both tall and athletic. It's just a line. They compare Shaq to Wilt Chamberlain when they are nothing alike. They compare Kobe to Jordan. Then you had "Baby Jordan", Harold Minor, where is that guy at? It's all good. I'm just out there trying to be myself."
Frye is a face-up big man, a 6-11 player who can run the floor and knock down a jumper. He's 250 pounds now, but he's hardly a wide body. You wouldn't ask Trung Canidate to be an inside power runner. You wouldn't ask Mark McGwire to lay down bunts and be a slap hitter. You wouldn't expect Mario Lemieux to be an enforcer, yet fans wanted Frye to be more like Shaquille O'Neal and less like Kevin Garnett, the player he more closely resembles.
No player better represented the program. Frye was a smart, articulate, nice kid. He was always good with the media and liked to have fun with them. In Boise he was issued a challenge by student manager Joe Williams to drop the word "potatoes" into every interview. Frye succeeded.
If you needed a good quote or a quick sound bite, Frye was your guy. While other players avoided the media, Frye never shied away. He once said that he considered interviews part of the "job" of being a college basketball player, but he never made it seem like work.
So was the Frye we interviewed the real Channing Frye? "Yeah, that's Channing," said Kirk Walters who is quickly learning as much about dealing with the media as dealing with the double team from Frye. "He's such a great guy."
"I have no memory like that, to be lying to everyone and become fake," Frye said. "That's one of my biggest pet peeves is fake people."
Frye sat slumped in his locker following the gut-wrenching loss to Illinois in the Elite Eight. He gave it his all in that game. He scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked six shots. He could not have played much better, but he was devastated.
He talked to the media, fighting back tears. He talked about how he could have done more, but deep down you hope he knows he did his best. Days earlier he was worried about his legacy, about not letting people down, but sitting there with ice on his knees and hurt in his heart, all Frye was worried about was no longer being a Wildcat.
"There's no more McKale, no more Bear Down," Frye said. "I love these guys and I love this team. No matter where I am next year I hope to come back and watch these guys play.
"I love this place. I feel like I'm at home here. It's like a big episode of Cheers; everybody knows your name. It's awesome. I love it here. Everyone is so nice and so down to earth."
Sadly, a big part of Frye's legacy will be the fact that his class will be the first since the 80s not to see the Final Four. Frye was aware of that before heading to Chicago.
"I can say I gave it all I have," Frye said. "If you don't consider me a winner, then I am sorry."
Frye won 102 games in his career. He won two Pac-10 regular season titles and a Pac-10 tournament title. He played in a pair of Elite Eights and a Sweet 16. He won titles at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, the Southwest Showdown, the Wooden Classic and four Fiesta Bowl Classics. He was All-Conference, All-Region and an All-American. He scored more points than any big man not named Bob Elliott. Only Elliott and Al Fleming grabbed more rebounds. Since the Pac-10 started recording blocked shots as an official statistic, only Anthony Cook rejected more.
Stack his resume against any Wildcat big man of the Olson era. Frye had a better career than A.J. Bramlett, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks and Joseph Blair. You can stack him up with any of the Arizona big men who cut their careers short. Wright, Williams, Ben Davis, Tom Tolbert, even Pete Williams. Frye competes favorably. The Knicks obviously thought so, even if some of the fans didn't think so.
Frye claims he is not overly concerned with how he is perceived. Think another player is better? That is fine with Frye. Want to pick apart his game? That's cool. As long as people feel he did his best and was a credit to the program, that is all he wants.
"He was a winner," Frye said of how he wishes to be remembered. "He was a winner, a nice guy and he left it all out on the court. That's all I can ask for."
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