Cuonzo Martin grew up in a rough neighborhood, in East St. Louis, Mo.
Oscar Frayer grew up in a rough neighborhood in Hayward, Calif.
Cuzonzo Martin just took the reins at California, and yet, he preaches legacy.
Oscar Frayer arrived at a Moreau Catholic program that had not been to a state title game since 1982 -- a program that hadn’t won a single playoff game since then -- and last year, he took them there.
Is it any wonder, then, that Frayer – a 2016 four-star and the No. 45 ranked player in his class – became Martin’s first commit since arriving in Berkeley (save the late signings of Brandon Chauca and Kingsley Okorho)?
“Cuonzo Martin is a great man,” Frayer said on Tuesday, after finishing up a celebratory family breakfast, that included several longtime friends, as well. “We have a connection that’s probably unbreakable. That staff is family. He wanted me to be a part of the Cal family, and that was big time. We have a lot in common. He came from a neighborhood that has a lot of crime – the crime rate is high – and I come from the same thing. He understands it. He gets me.”
“Cuonzo’s selling himself,” said Frayer’s coach, Frank Knight. “He knows what he’s doing. Oscar really likes him. Oscar’s like, ‘He’s like me.’ He came from the hood, and he grew up and made it. He’s thriving. Oscar’s like, ‘If he can help me do the same thing, I want to do it, and I can do it here in the Bay Area in front of my friends and family.’ Cuonzo’s like, ‘I want you to be at home.’ He’s going to go after the top kids in every class in the Bay Area, every year.’ That’s refreshing to hear. The kids are buying it, hook, line and sinker.”
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In the summer of 2013, just when Frayer had started hearing from schools, he had his sights set on the Syracuse’s and Duke’s of the world, but Knight reminded him of a fact that the Bears coaching staff has been – perhaps unconsciously – using when it comes to putting a fence around their backyard.
“If you want to play in the NBA, most people from California, who go outside of California – like to the East Coast – for college, and I’m going back to Calvin Byrd, who went to Villanova; this guy was a McDonald’s All-American, and went to Villanova and didn’t see the light of day,” Knight said. “Kids like Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray and Eddie House and these guys, they went somewhere locally, so I told him to think about that. He said, ‘OK,’ and then, [former Cal head coach Mike] Montgomery offered him.”
When Montgomery and the previous staff offered Frayer after his performance at the Cal team camp, Frayer was “juiced,” but when that staff left, Frayer began a little bit of an emotional tailspin.
“He had high anxiety,” Knight said. “I didn’t realize why he was so anxious, and I know now: Cal’s where he always wanted to go. He was hoping Travis [DeCuire] would get the job, so he would continue to get a scholarship, and when that didn’t work out, he was like, ‘Coach Knight, what are we going to do? I need to come up with a list. Who should I consider? What are we going to do?”
Then, Martin and his staff extended their offer in late July. After that, Martin called Knight.
“He told me that he wanted to have him and his mom on campus,” Knight said. “I figured that was great.”
Frayer and his mother came to campus on Sunday for what would be a revelatory visit. While Cal basketball had achieved quite a bit of success under Montgomery, it was still lagging behind the big boys when it came to campus awareness of recruiting. What Frayer witnessed on Sunday, though, evinced a paradigm shift in the way the program is perceived.
Over the course of his three-hour visit, Frayer talked to the staff and toured campus, but this time was different than his other visits.
“When they took us on the tour, people were talking to me, and it was crazy – the fans, they were screaming my name,” Frayer said.
Let that sink in: There were basketball fans on campus, who knew the name and the face of a 2016 recruit, something usually reserved for the elite of the elite basketball schools.
“We’re trying to bring something new to Cal,” Frayer said.
By the end of the visit, Frayer’s mother was in tears, and gave her blessing. So did Knight.
“He called me at about 4:00 yesterday, and was like, ‘Coach Knight, is it OK for me to commit?’” Knight said. “I said, ‘What do you mean, is it OK?’ He asked if, rules-wise, if he could commit, and I’m like, ‘Oscar. Do you feel comfortable? I’m going to support whatever you want to do. If you want to commit, go ahead.’”
That’s exactly what Frayer did.
“He’s excited, his mom’s excited, our school community is excited,” Knight said. “Our head counselor is a Cal grad, and it’s a great opportunity to continue to follow one of our kids, when he goes on to college.”
Part of why Frayer – who played up with the Oakland Soldiers 17U team for the past two summers -- wanted to pull the trigger so early was that he still has some work to do: Work on the recruiting trail, that is.
“I feel like we have a big opportunity on the table to recruit more Soldier players,” Frayer said. “I’m recruiting now. I started last night, as soon as I committed. I started recruiting Carlos Johnson and Jordan Ford, trying to get these guys to come along with me.”
Other players on Frayer’s radar? 2015 five-star Ivan Rabb, and Frayer’s 2017 Moreau Catholic teammate, Damari Milstead.
One source in the Bay Area basketball community went so far as to say that Frayer’s commitment could presage a boon for the Bears, in the recruiting department.
“This Oscar signing is going to be huge. I really think it’s going to be the first domino in a whole bunch of other people going to Cal,” the source said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if Ivan said he’s going there, and I know Damari, I wouldn’t be shocked if he said he’s going there, and Carlos, I wouldn’t be shocked, because they’re all friends. They would love to represent the Bay Area.”
One of the first people he spoke with after his commitment was Milstead.
“I talked to him last night, and he was happy for me,” Frayer says. “I tried to recruit him last night, too. Damari’s a good kid.”
Frayer didn’t want to rush to a decision, but wanted to help others.
“I’m trying to bring other people in, with me,” says Frayer, sounding awfully like Cal sophomore Jabari Bird, with whom Frayer has “always been cool.”
“We played against each other a couple of times in high school, in my freshman year and his senior year, so we’ve always been good friends,” Frayer continues.
Frayer also knows what it means to build something meaningful, close to home. He did just that, this past season, with the Mariners.
“Moreau was really not that good of a school, before my class and Damari’s class came in,” Frayer says. “I feel like we brought a legacy there, so, I said, ‘Why stop there? Let’s keep on building it. Let’s build it in the Bay Area.’”
Beyond the Commitment: Leaving a Legacy
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