Frazier becomes a marked man

Michael Frazier didn’t get the headlines last year. Every opponent Florida played knew he could shoot the three-pointer, but for the most part, the focus was on slowing down other parts of the Florida offense.

That won’t be the case this year.

Between stopping Casey Prather’s slashing, Scottie Wilbekin’s all-around scoring and Patric Young’s powerful moves in the post, Florida opponents had a lot to worry about last season. Add Will Yeguete to the mix, and the four-man senior class got all the headlines nationally about what made the Gators go. The starting five’s commitment to defense was an important part, but the balanced scoring made Billy Donovan’s squad a tough one to prepare for.

The sharp-shooting Michael Frazier didn’t make things easier, but he was just one part of it. When teams scout Florida early this season, Frazier no longer becomes a complimentary piece. In their eyes, he’ll go from another player that can score to the team’s best scorer.

“The last couple years for Michael, he's been a guy that probably had been in the background a lot, was able to do the things he does well -- and that's shoot the basketball,” Donovan said. “This year it's going to be different for him. I think he has worked really hard in understanding that. I think he understands what he's up against this year.

“It's a little bit different when you take the floor and you're the fourth or fifth guy in a scouting report and then move to the number one guy in the scouting report. There's a totally different set of circumstances he has to deal with that he's never dealt with before.”

There were still times when teams did try to take Frazier out of the game, but it didn’t work very often. He took less than six three-pointers in just three of Florida’s 21 conference games. This season, he’ll be more of a focus of stopping the Gators, which will make Frazier try to score in different ways.

He’s prepared for doing that. He spent the offseason working on his ball handling and scoring ability off the dribble. He worked on his mid-range jump shot and his moves to help get him to the rim. If he can efficiently attack the glass, it will keep opponents from being able to stay on top of him when he’s behind the three-point line.

"My medium range game, finishing at the basket, pick and roll a lot more, making the right reads, the right plays when I get into the lane,” Frazier said when asked what has improved about his game. “I've been doing a good job getting into the lane and making plays in individual workouts.”

The best way to get him more involved in other parts of the offense is for Frazier to improve his conditioning. He did that in the offseason, getting in better shape for the start of practice. Donovan thinks this will allow him to work harder on the floor to get himself open. There could still be games this year where teams focus on Frazier and take him out of the game.

If that happens, Donovan wants his Frazier to be happy finding the open man and ending the night with seven assists instead of seven three-pointers.

“If someone wants to take him out, there's got to be someone else open,” Donovan said. “That's part of his growth. That's something he's never had to experience before, something he's going to be challenged with. I think he understands that, he just hasn't gone through it yet. We'll see how he responds to that.”

Frazier spent extra time in the offseason working on his shot with former Florida guard Teddy Dupay. When Frazier was back home, he said the two worked out every day, sometimes multiple times a day. He watched Dupay work and marveled at how a shooter that is “so little” could still get his shot off whenever he wanted.

They turned that to Frazier, helping him learn how to get his shot off regardless of who was guarding him.

Frazier also knows he’ll be counted on to lead this season. As the only returning starter from a Final Four team, the junior knows all eyes will be on him when the team hits a difficult spot in the season. He downplayed replacing last year’s seniors, saying that they were gone, there’s nothing the team could do about it and that a new team has to emerge with new leaders. But there’s no more obvious leader than Frazier.

“It’s important,” Frazier said of his leadership. “I think guys are going to look at me and see how I respond to certain things, and I have to lead by example. When things aren’t going well, I can’t get down on myself because if I do that then other guys are going to look at me and they might get down on themselves. We can’t have that as a team. I think just me leading by example, doing what I do, working hard and the rest takes care of itself.”

With the team as a whole, Frazier isn’t back down from big expectations. The Gators are trying to replace 61.2 percent of their scoring from last season and will lean on plays like Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker to provide that. All three were pieces to last year’s team, but if one had a bad game, the Gators still found other ways to survive.

This year, it’s not that simple. Florida doesn’t have a load of experienced players to trust in big situations, and Donovan will need younger players to step up to fill big roles on the team. Frazier thinks this group has the talent to do it.

"This is probably the most talented team I've been on since I've been playing basketball,” Frazier said. “I've been on some pretty good teams. Just natural God-given talent, it's the most I've ever seen on a team I've been on."

Frazier expects the team to utilize its athleticism in transition more, running the ball up and down the floor to try stealing some easy points. Whether that happens or not, the junior will have to find more ways to score this season.

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