Illinois senior guard Chester Frazier is not a spoiled prima donna on a basketball court. He is the overachiever who battles through injury after injury to inspire his team. He believes he can play this week in the NCAA Tournament in Portland despite his hand injury.
"Right now, we've got to see. I'm just listening to the medical staff and trainers, but hopefully I will be ready to play this weekend. I want to play really bad. I think I'll be ready to go. I'll just leave it at that."
Coach Bruce Weber discussed Chester's status and the procedure he will follow to evaluate his playing potential.
"I think by Tuesday morning we'll have a little bit of an idea about Chester. He will go to the doctor. That will give him 5 days of healing. Our trainer Al Martindale and our team doctor have been talking all weekend about some kind of glove, something they could have for him to protect it.
"Just some kind of brace or glove. But you can't go too far or he can't bend his hand. They were talking about a batter's glove or a receiver glove with some padding in there to protect it.
"Even with pain, if he can just pass and dribble, I don't think he cares about the shooting that much, he'll be out there. We could have used him against Purdue. When things started going bad and we didn't make shots, he's a stabilizing factor. He runs our offense, he gets defensive stops. So I hope things go right and we'll have him as part of our team on Thursday.
"If he was a shooter, I think it would be doubtful. But he does all the other stuff, and he does play with some reckless abandon, probably too much. I don't think he'd be afraid to put his nose in there. And he's surely not afraid of pain.
"In this instance, when you have to guard good perimeter people who shoot threes, that's his specialty. So if we need him for a few minutes here and there, I know he wants to be part of it. But our medical staff and I would not do anything that would damage Chester or put him in a life-threatening situation, which I don't think is gonna happen. All that will be evaluated over the next couple days.
"He goes to the doctor Tuesday morning, and we hope we can get him involved in practice. Wednesday, you'd be doing a shootaround basically in Portland. We'll go from there. You hope by Thursday he can fight through that, and Saturday maybe he's even more ready if we have that opportunity."
Frazier looks forward to the challenge ahead.
"First of all, I have to get some motion back in my hand, get some strength back in my hand. Maybe get back in the gym and try and see if I can sustain a little of the pain catching the ball, dribbling the ball and shooting. That's what I'm looking forward to.
"(The brace) has to be soft enough to play with it. But we'll come up with something to protect it but keep me mobile enough to try to play. I'm doing a little research myself."
The injury occurred in a freakish way.
"It was just one of those things. I was just going after a rebound like I always did. I went for hundreds of rebounds and never got hit. I just kind of hit my hand on Dominique's leg. I shot the ball and followed my own shot. He grabbed the ball, and I tried to go for the strip, and I ran my hand up against his leg."
Chester would want to play even if this wasn't his final season, but he admits that is even greater incentive.
"I would have done the same thing if it was my freshman year. Sophomore year, I tore my MCL and came back and played in the NCAA Tournament. I'm no stranger to injuries, as you all know. There's a little more emphasis because it's my last year."
In one respect, the injury may be a blessing in disguise. Chester is such an outstanding leader that the other players have learned to rely on him, perhaps too much. It was good for the other Illini players to defeat Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, just so they know they can win without him.
Frazier is a true leader, so he realizes the team must develop other leaders, both now and before next year when he will no longer be there to lead.
"Definitely. Like I say, I'm talking to Jeff Jordan every night and Calvin (Brock) every night. Those are some guys that can do some things on the court. Jeff is ready to play, I think. He can push the ball as well as anybody we saw these last couple games. And Calvin can do some things on the court. You put those two guys out there, and positive things are gonna happen.
"Next year, they're gonna have to play without me. They have four young guys coming in, so somebody's gonna have to step up and learn some leadership qualities and not just me or some of the other seniors."
Weber also realizes Chester's absence has helped his bench develop.
"If anything with Chester's injury, the positive was that the bench got to be more involved, and I think they got a little more confidence over the weekend. Calvin hasn't played major minutes, but he's been like a 6th starter for us. I think he's had a good stretch run for us and played real well in Indianapolis this weekend.
"Calvin did a great job defensively. He guarded Manny (Harris), and he was on (Robbie) Hummel. We had to rotate when they rotated people. He gave us a couple tipins, he hit a jumper here and there. We lose a little bit of the passing and ball handling that Chester gives us. And that's why we mixed Jeffrey in there because he can do some of that."
Frazier doesn't expect to play 35 minutes, but he feels he can make a contribution against Western Kentucky Thursday.
"I think if I can play 10-15 minutes, that will help. I will feel happy with myself if I can at least do something to help my team win. And I think they would take that effort and put in more effort, see that I tried. Hopefully, that can help them win."
But even if he can't play, Chester is confident he can make a positive contribution.
"I don't feel like I have to be on the court to help these guys. They listen to me and look up to me. Hopefully, whether I play 1 minute or 30 minutes, they'll follow my lead and triumph."
One thing is for sure, Chester Frazier is the consummate team player. He loves this team and is sincere with his praise. More than anything else, it is the team that inspires him to do whatever he can to play.
"I feel this team is special, and I need to be a part of it."