A 6'-2" senior out of Baltimore, Maryland, Chester Frazier has been maligned throughout his career. His shooting woes encouraged opponents to leave him unguarded, which magnified the problem and made it harder for Illinois to run offense. Chester began to doubt himself, and the frustrations mounted.
But at the same time, Frazier was the epitome of hustle and determination. Showing a pain tolerance far beyond most people, Chester pushed himself to play through one injury after another. His need to win was so strong, he became the emotional leader of the team long before his senior season.
And more than anything, he played tremendous defense. He made the Big Ten All-Defensive team as a sophomore, but injuries and Illinois' poor record kept him off the list last year. But now, as a healthy and driven senior, Chester has a chance to be named Big Ten Defensive Player Of The Year. Coach Bruce Weber definitely thinks he deserves it.
"I think he will be from the coaches. He's guarding their players. Chester holds (Craig) Moore to half his average at Northwestern, and he had been really hot. At Indiana, we put him on Verdell (Jones) to get pressure on the ball, and he set the tone for the whole game with his ball pressure. He never let them get into their stuff.
"Definitely, he's on the all-defensive team, and I would be shocked if he doesn't become Defensive Player Of The Year. I know some other guys maybe have more steals, more blocks or something like that. But I think the coaches understand what he does. I've heard comments from coaches of his importance.
"A lot depends on where we finish though. If you win, have success and are in the top three, usually those are the teams that get the rewards anyway."
Chester Frazier underwent somewhat of a transformation this past year. After a talk with Coach Weber that helped him define his role, he made a conscious decision to change his approach from wanting to be an offensive threat to emphasizing defense, teamwork and leadership. He became an extension of Weber, a coach on the floor.
"It was just one of those things," Frazier explains. "I wanted to be on the court, so he told me what I had to do to play, and I accepted it. I think I've sacrificed a lot for this team, my own ego for one. Hopefully, my teammates respect that and give me the effort I gave them.
As proof of his unselfishness, Chester presently leads the Big Ten in assists per game. Instead of forcing up his own shots, he is finding ways of setting up teammates for easy buckets. It's all for one overriding purpose.
"The biggest goal is winning. I've changed a lot just for the sake of winning. I didn't do it for me, I didn't do it for Coach Weber, I just did it for the team. The results have panned out well. I'm finally getting some recognition for a job well done."
The other day in practice, Chester was seen speaking up to help teammate Alex Legion understand one of the nuances of team defense. He has a refreshing attitude about his leadership role.
"It's winding down for me, so I just figured I'd pass it along to another player. I'm not gonna be here next year, so hopefully he gets better to help the team next year."
Chester sounded like one of the coaches, and his voice of experience had to help Legion's learning process. Chester wants to be a coach someday, and he's off to a good start.
"That's what I've been doing all year. Basically, I've just been listening to Coach Weber and helping out whenever I can. I'm just becoming more comfortable with that role."
A coach must study his opponents, looking for weaknesses that can be exploited. Frazier's work with film study has gone a long way toward making him a defensive star according to Weber.
"He does study, he watches film. He's very into it, he wants to be successful. And I think it's definitely helped him. I remember hearing Dee (Brown) and Deron (Williams) talking about how they became students of the game, basketball junkies if you will, and that's how you take your game to another level.
"We do a (video) breakdown for every player. Usually, he gets the main guy, so he gets more clips. He comes in, sits down and watches them. We have everything in the computer, and we can pull out one player. His made baskets, his different situations. In a short period of time, he can really study a guy."
That study has paid off bigtime. Some media around the Big Ten may not understand what Chester Frazier has done defensively this year, but it would be a complete shock if he is not named Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches.
Beyond that, Chester is the one member of the Illini team the others depend on for leadership. He is the one who keeps them calm and focused during tense parts of the game. He's the one who's drive to win pushes his teammates farther than they think they can go.
He's the one who's personal sacrifice is admired and respected throughout the team. He's the one who is missed most when resting on the bench.
So while there are still a few weeks left in the season and much can still happen, it would not be surprising if Chester Frazier is named Most Valuable Player for Illinois this season.
For a person who heard boos from his own fans and endured endless criticisms in his earlier years, that would be quite an accomplishment. And much deserved as well.