Chester Frazier Provides Valuable Leadership

All teams need leaders, players who take responsibility for their teammates as well as themselves. True leaders must unite varied personalities into a cohesive unit, encouraging and helping as much in the offseason as the season. Senior guard Chester Frazier is the Fighting Illini basketball team's acknowledged leader.

Coach Bruce Weber knew he needed leaders after the chemistry problems experienced last year, and Frazier was a logical choice.

"The players kind of joke about 'Coach Frazier.' I've challenged Chester. He wants to maybe get into the coaching profession, here's your dress rehearsal. Take the team, be a leader, work with the young guys, help them. Along with improving your own game, it's gonna help everybody involved. So this summer was good, and we continued that into the fall."

Joke or not, Chester appreciates the respect from the players.

"It felt good," the humble Frazier admits. "The biggest thing was I got to know a few of my teammates a little better than I did last year. With a bunch of young guys, I feel like an older brother with the group. Now I feel like a lot of people can relate to me and respect me, and they listen to what I say."

There were 7 newcomers on last year's team, and the age differential between them and the seniors was too great to overcome. Frazier is trying to help the team's lone freshman, center Stan Simpson, so that he doesn't feel estranged from the upperclassmen.

"I try to motivate Stan. He's a bit of a loner. I just try to let him know to be positive and keep encouraged, get him motivated and let him know what college basketball's all about.

"He's a freshman, and he's the only one in his class. He lives far away from everybody. So it's kind of hard to make him feel welcome when he's so far away from everything. Basically, he doesn't talk, so he's hard to stay in touch with."

The 6'-2", 195 pounder out of Lake Clifton, Maryland (Eastern) and Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, has improved as a basketball player during his career at Illinois, but his personal maturation may be even more valuable to his long-term success.

"I think I've grown a lot, not only as a player but as a person. I've accepted my role on this team and with the other players on the team. So I'd say I've done well in my career here."

The hard-working Frazier drives himself to perform. His hustle sets an example few can emulate. He was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team as a sophomore, and he led the Illini in assists last season with an average of 3.6 per game. But he has not always enjoyed great popularity with fans due to his low scoring output.

"I can't control the fans, you know. They are gonna think what they want to think. They're spectators. Obviously, you've got to keep them happy, but I can't control that. Of course, it motivated the whole team last year. You've got to have a chip on your shoulder about that. Nobody wants to lose the games, so we've been in the gym a lot more, everybody's been working hard."

The past no longer exists. Expectations are down after being overblown last season, and this could be beneficial to the Illini.

"That kind of helps in a way because you release all the pressure, and the guys can just come out and play. I think last year we kind of stuck our foot in our mouths by 'We're gonna be better.' I think this year we're setting aside all the pressure and just going out and playing.

"We're not gonna say we're gonna win 35, we're just gonna come out and try to win games. We'll probably surprise a few teams that underestimate us."

So what does Chester think about this team's potential?

"Team chemistry is a lot better this year, and that's gonna help. I think you're gonna see it on the court with a bunch of guys running and playing as a unit and not so many individuals just trying to get stats.

"We have a bunch of guys still learning the systems. It's pretty hard to predict what's gonna happen in the future. We're just gonna try to win games."

Frazier is the team's leading rebounder returning for this season. He is relentless on the boards, but obviously he needs help on the inside.

"Rebounding is a point of emphasis right now. We've got to find somebody to come in and be a dog on the boards, be a glass cleaner. I think Mike Davis can do that, I think Dominique (Keller) can do that. We're trying to get Tis (Mike Tisdale) a little stronger so he can be able to do that. And of course the guards are gonna have to rebound by committee."

Illinois has commitments from four excellent players to join the team next year, so some fans are looking past this season to what they hope will be a brighter future. But Chester believes this season's team can surprise.

"Obviously, we've got a bunch of young talent coming in next year, but if I was to say anything to fans, it's 'Don't give up on this season.' We're gonna come out and play hard."

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