Illinois hired former Illini MVP Chester Frazier recently. He is thrilled about the new opportunity.
"I feel good. It's definitely a transition. I'm hanging up my sneaks and getting ready for the sidelines."
Was it a tough decision?
"Yeah, kind of. I'm still really competitive, I love basketball. But I get a chance to help the guys. I live for this university."
Illini coach Bruce Weber feels there are at least three good reasons to hire his former star.
"He was a player with these guys, and they respect him. They said he was part of them. He played on such a high level and understands what it takes. Back in the rooms, on the phone, through the texts, he can say some things that's coming from a different point because of his friendship with them and the respect they have for him. So I think that's a positive.
"And then in his case, I really want to help him get his Master's, so he's in grad school. You never know in the coaching profession, to move up you may be at a school where you need a Master's. So I think that's important.
"Also, he's learning the game. He's watching practice, watching the video. He's a basketball junkie and loves watching stuff."
Frasier loves to play basketball, but even last year while playing overseas part of him was still deeply rooted at the University of Illinois.
"When he was in Germany, I'd say once a week he called me or sent an email," Weber relates. "He said he watched the games late. He'd keep calling our guys. There's just a lot of positive things for him.
"We had hoped he would stay last year, but he just had that urge he wanted to play. He had a good year, the team was successful. I think he'll tell you his chronic injuries just kind of got to him. He broke his hand again last year.
"He was trying to make a comeback this summer and hurt his foot again. I think he got to that point he just said, 'Heck, I gave it a go, I'm getting hurt, my body doesn't have many miles left on it, let's try the coaching part.'
"We wish he could play. If we had him with these guys last year, now you've got maybe that toughness the team needed. He's not gonna be out on the court, he's not gonna be playing. But maybe through the attitude, talking, I think he can make a difference for us. I hope. Certainly the leadership part."
Frasier has no regrets about giving up playing the game.
"I won a championship in Europe, so I'm pretty satisfied with that. I just felt it was the right time. We have a few young guys here, and I think they could use my help and expertise.
"I'm a grad assistant, so I can't be on the floor right now. This summer I was still up in the air, so I could do a few things with these guys to help them get better. But now I can't be on the court. I'll just be another influence with the coaches upstairs, let them know what I see. I'm close with the guys, so I can kind of mediate between both of them."
Actually, Frasier is convinced the Illini team would have fared better last year had he not left for Germany.
"I told Coach I wish I would have stayed. I think things could have been a little different. I think last year I would have been able to stay on the floor as a student assistant. I would probably have been able to practice with those guys. Just me being around pushing Demetri and D.J. and Brandon and the rest of those guys would have helped them a ton."
Frasier has been impressed with the quality and potential of the upcoming team.
"Very athletic. There are a few guys that can play multiple spots. I feel we need another point guard, but Demetri is just gonna have to brunt that role as he did last year. But a really talented group of kids.
"I think they get along well. We should be a lot better this year. I think the guys are hungry, especially after not making the tournament. And they put in the time this summer. They were in the gym."
Even though he can't teach them on the court, he feels he can share things off the court than can help the players.
"They're 18-19 year old kids. Sometimes they don't know what it means to fully prepare for a game. It's more than physical, it's mental. It means studying your opponent. A lot of these guys don't watch film, so we may be drilling in their heads they need to watch film. Just different things to get them mentally prepared.
"I've just got to stay in their heads, trying to talk to the guys and seeing where their mindset is. Their attitudes and the way they approach the games, their prep work."
Frasier has been considering a coaching career for some time now.
"I began tinkering about the idea of becoming a coach my sophomore or junior year. But when the money was calling me in Europe, I took it. This year I saved some money from over there. The money wasn't an issue, I just wanted to begin my career in coaching."
Of course, his ultimate goal is to be a head coach. He knows jobs are scarce and applicants plentiful. But he's optimistic his perseverence will see him through.
"Every coach's ultimate dream is to be a head coach. I'm just enjoying it right now. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to be an assistant coach sooner than later. I'm looking forward to recruiting. I'm still young, so I have an edge with the recruits.
"I have a big network. I know a lot of coaches. Some guys from Baltimore are moving up in the ranks right now. Hopefully, my networking can lead me to a job somewhere."
Of course, he wants most to coach at Illinois, and he is now getting that chance. Frasier was asked why someone from Baltimore would bond so completely with a Midwestern school.
"It was a big change for me. I'm coming from an inner city, and things definitely slowed down for me. I kind of got used to it and like it, not having to worry about different things like crime and whatever that can happen in inner cities.
"People here embraced me through good times and bad. I just love the people here. They showed utmost respect for me here. I couldn't picture me starting anywhere else but here. This is the best transition I could have had."