Meacham, a Champaign native, transferred home from Dayton without a scholarship offer from Bruce Weber. The Baltimore-tough Frazier, meanwhile, was recruited late out of a prep school and his next-best scholarship offer came from an A-10 school. Both were at the sharp end of ample criticism during their first three years at Illinois.
But as the Illini wrap up their home schedule with games against Minnesota and Big Ten leader Michigan State this week, Frazier and Meacham are the leaders of a team that ranks among the biggest pleasant surprises of 2008-09. To be sure, they'll receive ample acclaim when they, along with fifth-year senior Calvin Brock, are honored prior to the Michigan State showdown on Sunday.
Frazier, in addition to being a leading candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, leads the league with 5.4 assists per game. He wants to be a college coach sooner than later — and it seems likely Weber would welcome him on his staff whenever an opening pops up.
"No one tries harder," Weber said in the Chicago Tribune. "No one plays harder. No one has fought through more injuries. And when good things happen to him, it makes me feel good."
Though Frazier doesn't score much (he has two more points than assists), he tends to save his shots for crucial moments. In Sunday's 70-68 win at Ohio State, for example, Frazier drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the final six minutes with the shot clock running out. He finished with six points on three shots.
Meacham, despite a deep shooting slump during league play, still ranks among the leaders in 3-point shooting (56 of 131, 42.7 percent) and ranks as Illinois' second-best defender. Including his freshman year at Dayton, he needs just eight points to reach the 1,000 career mark. Oh, and he has earned the use of a scholarship most of his time at Illinois.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to fight through that stuff right now. There's a lot of teams with guys that are boogered up. Ankles and knees and colds and coughs. This is it. You're down to the last couple weeks of the season, so you've got to fight through those type of things if you're going to, you know, have a team that does something special." — Illinois coach Bruce Weber, inspired by Demetri McCamey's so-so showings while battling the flu, imploring his players to suck it up in the Daily Herald.
IN FOCUS: At this juncture, Illinois really needs a win over front-running Michigan State to prove it will be able to hang with the nation's big boys when the NCAA Tournament comes along (a win over MSU also would essentially clinch an NCAA berth, too). The Illini led by as much as nine points when the teams met in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 17, but they foreshadowed their future offensive struggles against Minnesota and Penn State by scoring just three points over the final 6:11 to lose 63-57. Point guard Demetri McCamey is among the many Illini who need to play better at home than they did at MSU. Twice in the last four minutes, the Spartans' Travis Walton ripped the ball right out of McCamey's hands.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters — PG Demetri McCamey, PG Chester Frazier, SG Trent Meacham, PF Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale. Key Subs — F/G Calvin Brock, PF Dominique Keller, PG Jeff Jordan.
Illinois 65, Indiana 52
Penn State 38, Illinois 33
Illinois 70, Ohio State 68
vs. Minnesota, Thursday, Feb. 26
vs. Michigan State, Sunday, March 1
at Penn State, Thursday, March 5
Big Ten tournament at Indianapolis, March 12-15