(Part I in Channing Frye feature)"> (Part I in Channing Frye feature)">

Friends help push Channing Frye's game (Part I)

College basketball witnessed the emergence of three freshmen centers last season, Colorado's 7-0 David Harrison, Connecticut's 6-9 Emeka Okafor and Arizona's 6-10 Channing Frye. As it turns out, the three are close friends and have a developing personal rivalry in all things. UA's Frye was the least heralded of the trio coming into college but that may have changed now that they are all sophomores.<BR> <FONT COLOR="red">(Part I in Channing Frye feature)</FONT>

Channing Frye finished his playing career at Phoenix St. Mary's High School at 209 pounds. The word "project" became synonymous with the skinny kid who nearly averaged a triple-double (15 ppg, 12 rpg, 9.0 blocks per game) as a junior.

Needless to say, the McDonald's All-American voters didn't give Frye a second look. Most recruiting analysts saw him as a fringe top 100 prospect at best and ranked him as Arizona's fourth best signee behind Dennis Latimore, Salim Stoudamire and Will Bynum.

Harrison (No. 17) and Okafor (consensus top 50) were labeled "prospects" instead of "projects". Frye focused on doing what the Arizona coaching staff had asked of him, which was to work hard in the weight room and on his game. And by the time school started, Frye was up to 222 pounds.

Frye began the year coming off the bench behind fellow freshman Isaiah Fox but it wasn't long before he made an impact on games. In a game at Michigan State, Frye had his breakout performance when he blocked five shots, including four in about a three-second sequence. As with most freshmen, that gave him the confidence that he could play at the high Division I level and served as a springboard for the rest of the season.

In helping lead Arizona to a Sweet 16 finish and 24 wins overall, Frye wound up leading the Pac-10 in field goal percentage (.595), ranked fifth in blocks (50), had six double-doubles and made the All-Freshman team at the end of the year. Suddenly, Channing Frye was star-in-the-making to go along with Harrison and Okafor.

Frye actually had a chance to go up against his buddy Okafor in a non-conference loss to UConn late last season. And while Channing finished with 17 points, nine boards and two blocks, it was Okafor who dominated the game and wound up having the best rookie year (see table below).

Channing had his progress slowed when he seemed to hit the freshman "wall" near the end of the season. Otherwise, it's likely that Frye would have joined Okafor as a member of the Freshman All-American team.

He scored in single digits in 10 of his final 12 regular season games, including nine straight before the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where he seemed to finally snap out of the doldrums.

In Arizona's three game run in the Tournament, Frye averaged 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He had a great performance in the second round game against Wyoming when he scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. That game earned him national recognition and he built on it over the course of the offseason.

All the while, Okafor and his Connecticut team advanced to the Elite Eight and Harrison's Colorado Buffaloes stumbled to a 15-14 finish. All three would see each other a lot between season's end and the start of their sophomore years.

Frye had a very busy summer, probably the busiest of all returning Arizona players. He went with the team on a ten-game tour of Australia – averaging a team-high 19.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game there – then traveled to Italy and Turkey for five games along with teammate Latimore. On that trip, Frye posted 13 points and 6.3 rebound per game.

"That trip was amazing because I had to play three positions," Frye said of the European tour. "I played the three, four and five. I played the three because I was faster than some of the other big guys. It really helped me in my maturity because I see that in Europe they play like it's life or death. I took that tenacity from them and learned that you have to pick up the pace of the game and be fundamentally sound if you want to go to the next level."

Then came the Nike All-America camp in Indianapolis, a place where two dozen of the nation's best college players come to be counselors for the high school stars and participate in the best offseason pickup games the country has to offer. Frye, Okafor, Harrison , Kansas' Nick Collison and Wayne Simien and Xavier's David West – six of America's premier big men – were all present.

In one afternoon session, Frye matched up against both of his friends and came away looking like every bit the star. Frye used his quickness and shooting touch to get the best of his friends but the difference was that even though Channing had bulked up to close to 235 pounds and looked stronger, Okafor and Harrison resembled Greek statues, especially Okafor. It was obvious that he had made up ground on the two specimens but still had a long way to go physically.

"Those guys are really good," Frye said of David and Emeka. "I've known them since the end of my freshman year in high school. I've seen them grow in their athleticism and their body strength and their game. We always talk about how bad everybody thought I used to be and then I kind of blossomed. It's kind of a competitive thing and it's too bad we don't have them on the schedule."

In a recent release of the top sophomore prospects in the nation, NBADraft.net ranked Channing Frye the fourth best player in the class, followed by Okafor at No. 5 and Harrison at No. 17. It was like a "bizarro" version of the rankings when they were entering college and most of it can be attributed to Frye's hard work since he left high school.

Channing is now up to 238 pounds and he is noticeably stronger and more defined in the upper body. Arizona coach Lute Olson said that he has the kind of frame that could hold an additional 25-30 pounds while maintaining his quickness.

"He's a whole lot stronger," Olson said of his starting center. "(UA strength and conditioning coach) Brad Arnett and our strength coaches have done just an unbelievable job with the guys and not just from a strength standpoint, but also working on balance."

Arnett said it was a case of working on certain areas of the body that Frye hadn't used yet.

"Channing came in with weak rotator cuffs," he said. "His shoulders kind of sagged because of that. Most freshman come in and all they want to do is bench, bench, bench. We show them how to get the smaller muscles supporting the larger muscles stronger so that it helps their total body strength. He's stronger in muscles that he didn't even know he had coming out of high school. All of the guys are. But Channing could easily get stronger still. I can see him getting up to 260-265 pounds before (he leaves Arizons)."

For a guy that was given the nickname of "Ham Sandwich" by his teammate Salim Stoudamire for being soft at the beginning of his freshman year, Channing Frye has transformed his body and his game into potential Lottery material.

Lately, the talk about him leaving early for the riches of the NBA became a hot topic .

"I'm just focused on what I need to do," said Frye, who also averaged 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds as a freshman. "Last year people talked about me redshirting and now all of the sudden everyone's talking about me going to the League. I talked to my parents and I'm not looking to go out early or even make it an option until after my junior year and I've gotten the full experience of college. I'm more focused on going to the championship and winning that."

Freshman Season Comparison:

*Channing Frye 6-10, 238 C-Arizona
*Emeka Okafor 6-9, 245 C-UConn
*David Harrison 7-0, 255 C-Colorado

Category Frye Okafor Harrison
Minutes: 23.9 30.0 24.3
PPG: 9.5 7.9 13.9
RPG: 6.3 9.0 7.0
Blocks: 1.5 4.1 1.3
FG pct: .595 .590 .638
FT pct: .727 .620 .561
Starts (Games): 25 (34) 34 (34) 22 (27)

{Part II examines the upcoming season for Frye and includes his battle with teammate Isaiah Fox for the starting center position. Also, it features more talk about the NBA and potential All-American honors at Arizona}.

Contact Ben Hansen at BHansen6677@aol.com

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